Stamp Collectors Against Dodgy Sellers
31 May 03 - Saratoga ring moves over to Yahoo
9 May 03 - Pcheltenham suspended from eBay
3 Mar 03 - Perforated proofs - casualties of the "alterations" trade
17 Feb 03 - SCADS "The Saratoga Fakes" article updated
18 Dec 02 - New ID wackeywood appears on the scene
8 Nov 02 - Examples of altered stamps offered by 32gyt78
8 Nov 02 - 32gyt78 : new ID, new patter, same scam
31 Oct 02 - Saratoga Ring suffers Multiple Personality Disorder
16 Oct 02 - New buying ID tremor111
10 Oct 02 - "The Saratoga Fakes" article released by SCADS
10 Oct 02 - "Cautionary tales of two auctions" article released by MSNBC
9 Sep 02 - A real piece of work: pcheltenham's latest "BEAUTIES"
5 Sep 02 - Pcheltenham speaks out: "YOU'RE BUYING A PIG IN A POKE!"
16 Aug 02 - Pcheltenham goes private!
11 Aug 02 - Building the Saratoga case
More information, articles and case histories of the Saratoga Ring
eBay's investigations and the suspension of pcheltenham have prompted the Saratoga Ring to take their activities off eBay. None of the active buying IDs have placed bids on eBay since 8 May (tremor111) and 9 May (chickfrdstk).
The sellers have moved to the alternative online auction site Yahoo, using the name goldmedalauctions. On 20 May, this new seller began listing items at least one of which has been identified as having been bought by tremor111 on 28 April. The name is similar to "Gold Medal Mail Sales", the mail auction arm of the Stolow auction house previously run by Gregory Stolow.
The following links contain more references to Gregory Stolow and Gold Medal Auctions:
America Philatelic Society: News - Civil Suit (2002) Stolow vs APS, et al.
Classic Stamps of Mauritius: News (18 Feb 02) Apfelbaum pleads guilty to bid-rigging conspiracy
BNA: Antitrust & Trade Regulation Daily (2 Mar 03) Stamp Dealer's Bid Rigging Claims Are Untimely or Legally Inadequate
rec.collecting.stamps newsgroup (Nov 95-May 98): Gold Medal Auctions
rec.collecting.stamps newsgroup (Jul 97): Gold Medal Auctions - DISREPUTABLE
rec.collecting.stamps newsgroup (Jan 96): who is GOLD MEDAL AUCTIONS?
The activities of the Saratoga Ring have been drawn to the attention of Rob Chesnut, eBay Vice President of Trust and Safety (see separate article), and efforts into investigations are proceeding . The first evidence of progress is the suspension of seller pcheltenham on 9 May, two days after listing over 250 new auctions.
Investigations into the Saratoga Ring initiated by Chestnut have so far proceeded rather slowly. The suspension is looked upon by SCADS member George Kopecky as only the first step in his efforts to have legal action taken against the stamp alteration group.
News of the suspension was greeted with enthusiasm by Stamps chat board members, who have been aware of the stamp alteration activities of the group since late 2000. Meanwhile, board members remain alert for reincarnations of the seller, or activity by dormant seller IDs 32gyt78 and wackeywood (formerly notorious seller schuylerac).
Just as elephants are endangered in the hands of a few apathetic people who only want to make some quick cash off the ivory, so too are plate proofs of many U.S. classic stamps.
The Saratoga Ring buyers (notably chickfrdstk and now tremor111) have not limited themselves to purchasing seconds or damaged stamps, but have also been snapping up imperforate plate proofs as raw material for alterations. These have appeared in the Saratoga Ring seller pcheltenham's listings as perforated stamps, and have fetched high prices. One example is this perfed #47P3, which realized $1,280.66 after being purchased by chickfrdstk for $110.00. Such "profits", gained by defrauding innocent buyers, mean that this trend will inevitably accelerate.
Whilst not all of the proofs bought can be shown by scans alone to be their altered counterparts in the sellers' listings, some have enough distinguishing characteristics to have been added to the growing database of comparisons documenting the alterations scam.
This alarming trend threatens the supply of proofs that will be available to collectors in the future. As one appalled collector stated on the eBay Stamps chat board,
"We are watching the destruction of an important component of our postal history."
This in-depth report on the operations of the Saratoga Ring has been updated by SCADS to:
On December 18, 2002, user ID crustaceans (formerly the notorious schuylerac) again changed his eBay ID to wackeywood. This new name change may be simply an attempt to muddy the trail and cleanse the name, since this account has been inactive since at least June, 2002.
Current membership of the Saratoga Ring:
Here are a few cases documenting stamps purchased on eBay using the ID of chickfrdstk, which were substantially altered and resold by pcheltenham as part of his fictitious "handed down estate collection."
A lengthy discussion and categorization of the many previous fakes by the same ring can be found in the "Fraud on eBay Exposed!" article.
November 25, 2002: "32gyt78" goes private
Saratoga Ring member 32gyt78 began using the private auction format on November 25, 2002. The switch to private auctions undoubtedly was in response to several of his initial sales being cancelled after the winning bidders were notified of known alterations to the stamps advertised.
November 8, 2002: ID "32gyt78" added to the Ring
The Saratoga gang has recruited, or created, a new eBay user ID: 32gyt78, apparently because the seller ID pcheltenham has become too notorious.
This "new" seller claims to be selling off his old duplicates at the behest of his demanding heirs. In fact, as always with The Saratoga Ring, these are stamps which have been purchased recently on eBay, many of which have been altered or repaired in the Saratoga County workshop. Of course these alterations are not being disclosed to the buyer.
In an effort to further muddy the trail, the Ring has gone to the trouble of buying an old album (this was purchased by chickfrdstk a few weeks back) and mounting their altered stamps into it, so that buyers will believe the "old duplicates" story line.
However, the familiar personality of pcheltenham can readily be discerned in the auctions of 32gyt78 - in the miserable spelling, the use of capital letters, and, of course, the fact that he is selling the identical stamps that were purchased by chickfrdstk and which have since been altered.
In the last few weeks, the Saratoga Ring has suffered an acute attack of Multiple Personality Disorder, spawning a new buying or selling ID every week. On October 15th the schuylerac selling ID was changed to crustaceans, after over five months of inactivity. On October 19th the stazy4 buying ID was changed to booksnbooks4u. Watch for new listings and renewed bidding by these IDs once the shades come off . . . It is a job to keep up with them as they flee from exposure. But we'll manage.
Stamps purchased by buying ID tremor111 have been altered and sold by ID pcheltenham. Though the connection between these IDs was discovered only recently, feedback shows both of these IDs were activated in April, 2002.
This detailed report on the activities of schuylerac, pcheltenham, chickfrdstk, and stazy4 gives an in-depth analysis of the scope of the fraud, legal issues, eBay policies that have promoted it, and possible courses of action by collectors and law enforcement authorities.
pcheltenham, schuylerac, chickfrdstk, and stazy4 were named in an MSNBC web expose on eBay auction conspiracy. In the article, author Mike Brunker said "The SCADS experts have assembled a damning dossier" on The Saratoga Ring's sale of stamps altered to increase their apparent value.
pcheltenham posted 29 lots September 8, some of which are labeled as "beauties" of his fictitious "handed down estate collection." But the undisclosed alterations were quickly exposed by hard-working SCADS volunteers.
A new level of multi-layered deception has perhaps been reached with pcheltenham's latest innovation: self-disclaiming faked pieces! After the stamps have been glued to the fake piece, pcheltenham writes a note on the back of the piece saying that the stamp "doesn't belong" on the piece.
Why create a piece and then disavow it? Possibly to direct the attention of the buyer away from even worse problems. Consider the item pictured below.
At left is the piece newly created in the Saratoga County studios. At right is the stamp as it was bought by chickfrdstk, pcheltenham's neighbor or alter ego, on August 4, 2002. Certainly the stamp "doesn't belong" on the piece of paper, since it was only attached there during the last month. But what surprises await the buyer if he soaks it off?
Note the triangular chunk missing from the top of the unaltered stamp, which was accurately described by the original seller. But in pcheltenham's scan, the missing piece seems to have been replaced, complete with two perf teeth! Is it a piece of paper glued between the stamp and the paper? Or is it just drawn on the paper, in the process of adding the fake cancels? Hard to tell from this scan.
Such is the ragged "pig" concealed in this particular "poke". Is it any wonder that thoughts of criminal investigations weigh on his mind?
Pcheltenham posted 14 new private auctions today, which were remarkable for their lengthy and rambling disclaimers.
Stretching his "as is" selling method to the limit, pcheltenham declared that "IT IS THE OBLIGATION OF THE BUYER TO DETERMINE WHICH STAMP IT IS, AND TO DETERMINE IT'S CONDITION ... YOU ARE BUYING A PIG IN A POKE."
[N.B.: This on-line phrase finder defines 'a pig in a poke' as 'an offering or deal that is foolishly accepted without being examined at first.']
Pcheltenham also declared that "I don't prescribe to any rating system which holds one type of fault more odious than that other type of fault, or devalues the stamp more in one situation over another situation, there are far to many opinions as it is."
His discourse hinted at some of the e-mails which he has been receiving: "Occaisonally the word JUNKY or JUNK is used. In the dictionary it says ' worthless'. But as said, one man's junk is another man's treasure."
His disclaimer did not, however, speak to the issue of whether he has in fact been involved in faking large numbers of these 'faulty' stamps himself, as an examination of the stamps purchased by chickfrdstk and stazy4, and later sold by him in altered form, pretty much demonstrates.
If these remarks were in themselves not enough to warn the bidder away from his own auctions, pcheltenham added the following 'justification' for his private auctions to the listing above:
'One more unanswered question. Some have asked why I've gone to " hidden bidders." With the current Justice Department and several States Attorny General Offices investigation of bidrigging and violations of The Sherman Anti-Trust Act within the Philatelic Industry, I feel it only prudent for all involved.
One hardly knows what to say.
Pcheltenham seems to be saying that he is hiding the identities of his bidders in order to protect "all involved" from criminal investigation. Why does he expect his sales to be investigated? Who would be the target, the seller or the buyers? Leaving aside the fact that the Department of Justice would be able to use its subpoena powers to find out the details of the sales from eBay anyway!
If there is indeed 'bid-rigging', such as shilling, going on in the philatelic market, shouldn't the bidders see the bid histories? And, since he brings up the subject, wasn't it his own apparent associates, schuylerac and chickfrdstk, who were suspended from eBay in 1999 for shilling?
Isn't it a little less than 'prudent' of pcheltenham to bring up the Justice Department investigations at all? Isn't this like 'speaking of rope in the house of the hanged man'? Does he WANT us to start talking about Greg Stolow, the key witness in those investigations, who also lives in Saratoga County and has been previously linked with pcheltenham's "associate" schuylerac?
Is the pressure getting to the man?
Pcheltenham has now posted 161 new marvels from his fictitious estate collection.
As a new wrinkle, he has made them all private auctions.
Bidders and buyers will be completely anonymous and cannot be contacted by anyone who would try to interfere with the auction by making true statements to the bidder.
EBay help files suggest: "Please don't make your auction private unless you have a specific reason, such as potential embarrassment for bidders and the buyer."
Hard to argue with that.
The next step would be to make the stamps themselves unable to recognize. Although a lot of work has been done to this end already, we are not quite at that stage. As we shall see.
This scam operation consists of four eBay IDs at this point, which may really be two, or even only one person: chickfrdstk, stazy4, schuylerac, and pcheltenham. These users all have addresses very close to each other. This profitable operation consists of three stages:
A SCADS member has spent untold volunteer hours comparing scans from the auctions won by chickfrdstk or stazy4 with scans from schuylerac's or pcheltenham's listings, documenting over 300 cases in which the stamps sold by schuylerac or pcheltenham are, with 100% certainty, the same stamps which were bought by chickfrdstk or stazy4, with material alterations. Over 50 of these are documented online with comparison scans.
This does not mean that this is ALL that there have been. More are "in the pipeline," and SCADS team members continue to prepare online comparisons where color scans of both the 'before' and "after" stamps are available. At this point, any stamp sold by pcheltenham has to be viewed with the utmost suspicion, even if SCADS has not actually pinpointed the stamp from which it was altered.
In addition, given the thousands of items not matched, and that many of them display the same characteristics as the altered items, that is:
It is likely that thousands of these fakes, forgeries and altered stamps produced by these people are already in the marketplace.
It must be emphasized that most of the alteration being performed by pcheltenham is to improve the grade of genuine items, not produce rare varieties, although that is certainly also being done.
Overview of the operations of the Saratoga Ring:
Documentation of this scam, complete with voluminous comparison scans:
See also these detailed analyses of individual altered stamps: