When it comes to art and cultural property crime, we’re used to hearing about high profile thefts at museums. According to the Art Loss Register, over 50% of thefts occur from private collections. There are hundreds of thousands of reported art crimes each year, not to mention those unreported. This includes theft, fraud and looting as well as trafficking across state lines and international borders. The category of art crime is rather broad and can include fine art, antiquities, collectibles, musical instruments, antiques, pottery, glass, silver, books, documents, textiles and much more.
In the March issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, there is an excellent article discussing many of the issues relating to worldwide art crime: Protecting Cultural Heritage from Art Theft by Noah Charney, Paul Denton, and John Kleberg. It discusses how art crime on local and international levels potentially funds organized crime and terrorist activities. It also discusses what law enforcement agencies around the world are doing to combat this problem.
The FBI has an Art Crime Team with 14 special agents. They conduct investigations and manage the National Stolen Art File, a search-able database of stolen art and cultural property objects. An FBI Agent spoke to an appraisers meeting I attended a few years ago, and stated that 80% of the signatures on celebrity and sports memorabilia were fake. Buyer beware!
In Southern California where I live, the Los Angeles Police Department Art Theft Detail is charged with investigating thefts, fakes, frauds and forgeries. They also publish a list of alerts and latest stolen art.
Personal property appraisers need to be aware of these issues, and exercise due diligence on appraisal assignments. Owners may be unaware they have been given or purchased a suspicious object with an unclear title. Items with questionable provenance or title may have a lower value, and ownership rights are subject to challenges and claims.
Art Loss Register http://www.artloss.com/en
Association for Research into Crimes against Art http://artcrime.info/
Fine Art Registry http://www.fineartregistry.com/
International Foundation For Art Research http://www.ifar.org/