Caveat emptor

A lesson you don't need to be told, but we'll do it anyway: don't buy expensive stuff without seeing it first. One of your humble Backbyters got burned recently purchasing a collectible DVD from an eBay auction. It was advertised as "mint", but, when it arrived, was nothing of the sort. In fact, it was in such lousy condition that it damaged the DVD player.

But enough of our problems. We weren't burned nearly as badly as Rob Keereweer, a Dutch art aficionado and tech company executive who thought he had stumbled onto a major bargain and ended up parting with almost $A290,000.

The story goes like this: a painting was bought at a garage sale. Years later, its owner wants to clear out some old stuff, so puts the painting up on eBay with a starting bid of 25c.

It's damaged, so he includes a photo of the damaged area. He says the damage was done by his three-year-old's tricycle wheel.

Then, interest mounts. Some bidders speculate that the painting may be a lost work by modern master Richard Diebenkorn. The bids get higher and higher, eventually reaching astronomical levels. Even at more than a quarter of a million bucks, a lost Diebenkorn is a bargain - the buyer is happy, and the seller is bewildered.

Then, it comes out. The seller said the painting was bought at a garage sale in Berkeley, where Diebenkorn worked in the 1950s. It wasn't. What's more, the seller doesn't have a three-year-old, but the photo of the tricycle damage conveniently happened to show an "RD" signature. And, it seems, one of the more interested bidders was the seller himself.

As we said, buyer beware.

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