IMCA Insights – March 2006
Welcome to the March issue of IMCA Insights, entitled IMCA Meteorite Wrong Righters. Although it is IMCA’s primary purpose to serve authenticity by self-monitoring among its members we are also concerned with the various fraudulent meteorite offers on and off Ebay. Don’t get me wrong – IMCA is NOT policing Ebay, or any other offers on the web and on mineral shows and fairs, but it’s our duty to inform our members and non-members about deliberate scams and fraudulent offers that come to our attention. It’s our duty in the name of authenticity, and the only way to prevent any further circulation of mislabeled meteorites, or fake specimens.
On our website we have compiled a page which informs you about some of the more common meteorite scams, and in the introductory text we try to explain why the meteorite sector is that vulnerable to fake offers, and scam artists:
“IMCA is especially committed to 'authenticity' due to the technical aspects of meteorite identification. Since petrographic and mineralogical analysis is not easily available to all, meteoritical claims may not be verified by a buyer until much time has passed following the transaction, if at all. Unscrupulous persons have tried to capitalize on this weakness with forgeries, fakes, and switched meteorites.”
While many of the meteorwrongs that are being offered on Ebay as meteorites by uneducated or careless sellers could be called “innocent scams” there is also an increasing number of fake offers that are not that innocent, and which are clearly based on organized crime. An alarming number of fake moldavites, made of Beer bottles from Shangdong, China, are sold on Ebay as the Real McCoy, and more and more pieces of terrestrial Mekong River Irons are offered and sold as iron meteorites. Newcomers often fall for the seemingly cheap offers, and sometimes they start to re-sell the fake material on Ebay, and via other venues – a vicious circle that can only be broken by public information, and education.
Fake Lunars with Forged Documents Sold on Ebay
However, there are also some more sophisticated scams, and even seasoned collectors tend to fall for them. One of the worst cases that I’ve personally worked on has been the “Dhofar 025” scam where fake lunar meteorite samples with forged documents were sold on Ebay by a person called “floridacoaster”. Some IMCA members acquired samples of these dirt cheap “lunar meteorite” fragments, and some months later the question arose if this was actually the real deal or some fake material. Since I’m somewhat specialized in lunar meteorites, I offered my help, and two of the buyers provided me with representative samples of the 'floridacoaster' stuff and with the accompanying paperwork, certificates, and correspondence.
The results of my subsequent studies were confirmed by my old friend, and mentor, Prof. Dr. Juergen Otto, a seasoned meteoriticist, and petrologist: the samples sold by 'floridacoaster' were terrestrial pyroclastites (volcanic rocks), or to be more specific, pieces of an ignimbrite, a brecciated type of volcanic tuff with clasts of vesicular pumice-stone. Comparisons with samples of the real Dhofar 025 showed just a superficial resemblance that was more or less confined to the color of the samples. A close inspection showed that they were very different, and that they hadn't much in common. Most of our members, and other seasoned collectors who bought this fake stuff were certainly fooled because they had no real Dhofar 025 to compare with.
The worst part of this whole story is that there is much evidence that this wasn't an innocent mistake by 'floridacoaster' but a deliberate act of fraud. One of the pyroclastite samples has an artificial fusion crust, obviously created by using a welding torch on the stone. Interestingly, Dhofar 025 is known for its very long terrestrial residence time, and for the total absence of fusion crust, something that should have been a warning sign for the more educated buyers. Adding to that, the sample was also accompanied by a forged document (a COA for another, totally unrelated lunaite from Dhofar, originally signed in 2003 by Prof. Dr. Bischoff, Institut fuer Planetologie, Muenster, Germany).
The fake document provided by 'floridacoaster' was a 1:1 copy (though on a US paper format, and not on the original European DIN A4 format) – with a forged date (dated back to 2000!), and fake phone and fax numbers that would leed the inquiring buyer nowhere. There were several other indications that this has been a delibarate, and systematic fraud, and thanks to 'floridacoaster' we now have more than one dozen fake lunar samples in the hand of various collectors, and thus on the meteorite market. A former IMCA member even used his multiple wins from 'floridacoaster' as giveaways (after he had been warned that this might not be the real thing), and other samples were traded or sold.
Please be watchful for these samples. The fake "Dhofar 025" must be taken out of circulation, and the buyers/owners must be informed. If you are one of the buyers, you will certainly try to get your money back from 'floridacoaster', and you might also be interested in advising Ebay and the Florida Attorney General's office of this fraud. If you need additional information or assistance, please contact me directly, or ask the IMCA Board of Directors who will be glad to be of your assistance.
Hundreds of Campos Sold as Baygorria
Sometimes the scam isn’t all about selling wrongs for rites but about selling one meteorite for another, for various reasons. One of the worst cases of the last years has been the so-called Baygorria scam. On our respective warning page fellow IMCA Board Director Ken Newton writes:
“Baygorria Watch! No gorgeous lifeguards to protect you in these waters! So what's the scam? Relocated wet Campos may be surfacing the meteorite market as ‘Baygorria’. How could this happen? The 2005 Tucson show was attended by the Giroldi Brothers of Uruguay. The brothers claim to have found an abundance of Baygorria meteorites beneath the waters of the Baygorria Dam. They supplied a poster of photos ‘documenting’ their onsite dive ‘recovery’ with many pristine black metal meteorites being retrieved from the brackish waters as proof. Too bad no one told them that meteorites rust in water. Not one meteorite in the photos showed the first signs of rust.”
There were several “reasons” for the Giroldi’s to re-declare their Campo del Cielo iron meteorites as Baygorria. First, the export of Campo del Cielo meteorites is prohibited by Argentinian law, and – according to Mike Farmer, who talked to the Giroldi’s at the 2005 Tucson show – “the Argentine government is after them, so what did they do, they just call it Baygorria and say they found it in a lake in Uruguay.” Second, Baygorria easily can be sold at higher prices than Campo del Cielo which is more than abundant on the meteorite market. There’s only one 80kg mass of the original Baygorria that was found on July 8, 1994, in the Rio Negro Province, Uruguay, but – and that’s part of the resulting problems – this meteorite is compositionally similar to Campo del Cielo, a fact that proves that we are looking at one of these more elaborate scams. Ken Newton asks:
“Are all Baygorria being sold actually Campos? No. The ‘single mass of approximately 80kg’ (the real Baygorria) was purchased by Edwin Thompson of Edwin Thompson Meteorites. Slices from the ‘single mass’ were subsequently sold to Rob Wesel of Nakhla Dog Meteorites and Michael Blood of Michael Blood Meteorites.”
Of course, the business of these honest dealers has been seriously hurt by the flood of fake Baygorrias, especially since some other more or less prominent dealers have jumped on board, and keep on selling these old Campos as new Baygorria finds. In conclusion, Ken Newton writes:
“There was only one documented Baygorria meteorite. It has been cut into slices and the main mass (40kg half) was donated to a university. Individual meteorites sold as ‘Baygorria’ are more than likely Campo del Cielo from Argentina. Buyers seeking genuine slices of Baygorria should contact the dealers mentioned above. Buyers purchasing from any other source should first request proof of provenance to the only documented mass.
It is a shame that a misrepresentation perpetrated to bypass export laws inadvertently resulted in so much mistrust and confusion. So what is the most important lesson here? Edwin Thompson explains: ‘The biggest problem is that in an entirely trust based industry, so many wonderful meteorites (Campos) are being turned into lie based material. This could create an infection that may spread and remain for years to come, breaking down that delicate trust relationship between collector or researcher and supplier. The truth needs to be established, exposed and supported by us all.’”
So, buyers beware! Know the sources of the meteorites you are buying, and do not hesitate to ask questions, and to request more detailed information about the provenance of the samples for sale. If you are in doubt, or if you find out about an obvious fraud, feel free to contact your local FraudBusters, i.e., the IMCA Board of Directors. It will be our pleasure to have a look at your case, and to eventually publish the details of an actual scam for the sake of authenticity, and proper business practices. That’s what we stand for.
In the next issue, due out in April 2006, I’d like to take you on a journey, and to introduce you to another facet of our work in “IMCA MythBusters”. Stay tuned, and hope to see you again, next month.