Gallery 925 / Leo Olsen
Most stories of people being conned on the internet carry the admonition “buyer beware”, but the case of Leo Olsen shows that sellers too can be at risk from unscrupulous traders. Mr Olsen has been fighting since early 2013 for a San Francisco jewellery trader to honour her promise to purchase a rare “Georg Jensen” necklace and belt buckle.
Jensen, who lived from 1866 to 1935, developed a word class reputation as a silversmith. His Art Nouveau designs proved exceedingly popular and his business rapidly expanded beyond Copenhagen; before the end of the 1920s he had opened retail outlets in New York, London, Paris, Stockholm and Berlin. Since then dozens of designers, most of them Danish, have produced jewellery under the Georg Jensen brand. When new, these pieces are sold by company stores or, in places such as Australia, through high end retailers such as David Jones. Pieces bearing the Jensen name are highly collectable, and often sell for large sums.
Unfortunately, once the jewellery is put up for re-sale there is no accreditation of dealers, and as a result many businesses have set themselves up as Jensen “experts” despite having no connection to the Copenhagen business nor to its worldwide network of stores.
When Leo Olsen turned to eBay to sell his Georg Jensen necklace and belt buckle he expected it might sell privately, to a collector such as himself, but was pleasantly surprised when the winning bid – for $6,145.80 – came from Gallery Nine Two Five, a California business which represents itself as “specializing in 20th century silver, featuring Georg Jensen at the head of the collection”.
Having received payment through eBay, Mr Olsen duly packaged his items and shipped them to the gallery. It was then that his problems started.
Gallery Nine Two Five owner Rachel Prater claimed that the items were received in a damaged condition, though acknowledged they had been well packed for shipping. She used eBay’s internal dispute procedure to request a refund; eBay wrote to Mr Olsen in April, calling him an “outstanding buyer and seller on the site” and noting that he’d bought and sold 62 items since 2006 without any issues. However the auction site said that, since Ms Prater disputed that the description matched the item she’d received, the simplest resolution was for her to return the necklace and belt buckle to Mr Olsen, and Mr Olsen refund her money.
While he had no doubt that the items he’d sent weren’t damaged, Mr Olsen did so, paying the refund before the package arrived from San Francisco. And it’s at this point that the story takes an unusual turn. Generally, buyer and seller would go their separate ways; Ms Prater able to buy jewellery from someone else and Mr Olsen at liberty to sell his necklace and belt buckle to a different buyer.
But what Mr Olsen got back wasn’t his necklace at all. While he says the belt buckle is the one he sent Ms Prater, the necklace is a look-alike, in a slightly different colour – a fake, he claims. And sure enough, it shows signs of damage – dents to the silver in two places and small chips in the coloured enamel.
It seems Gallery Nine Two Five sent Mr Olsen a different neck ring to the one he’d sent them, retaining his to on-sell while saddling him with a copy worth much less than his original.
Since then, Leo Olsen has tirelessly campaigned for justice, hampered by the distance between Perth and San Francisco, by the different legal systems in both countries and by the fact that, at around $6,000, the dispute is about an amount large enough to represent a sizeable loss to the Olsens but hardly enough to justify hiring a US attorney to pursue. “I’ve tried,” he says ruefully, “but they all want 10 or 20 thousand dollars [in their trust accounts] before they’ll even start”.
eBay, understandably, say they’re not experts in verifying the provenance of jewellery and simply applied a hard-and-fast rule: if the buyer complains the item received doesn’t match the description, the easiest solution is that they get their money and the seller gets their item back to try again.
He’s also filed a complaint with the WA Police – who say it’s outside their jurisdiction – the ACCC and with a US government agency, the Internet Crime Complaint Centre (IC3), a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C).
Strangely, Mr Olsen even complained to the Better Business Bureau, of which Gallery Nine Two Five is a member. The BBB claims it “sets standards for ethical business behavior and monitors compliance”, giving its member businesses a ranking based on a number of factors, including the number of complaints received. Mr Olsen has a copy of the complaint he sent to the Bureau, yet the BB website gives Gallery Nine Two Five a “AAA-“ rating based, amongst other things on there having been “no complaints filed with BBB”.
Australian media have become interested in the case, with local News Corporation paper The Sunday Times running a piece on the issue. “They satisfied themselves that our complaint was truthful before they’d run the story,” Mr Olsen points out. He has also taken to the internet to tell his tale to other would-be buyers and sellers via sites such as Scamwatch and The Rip Off Report.
The Olsens, who are retired, have photos to prove the jewellery they sent to Gallery 925 is not the same as that received after they’d refunded Ms Prater’s money, and have offered to swear affidavits to that effect, and verifying the pieces they sent were in perfect condition. “eBay advised us to wait for the items to arrive and then to inspect them over the following three days before paying the refund,” Mr Olsen admits. “But that’s not how I do business. The buyer wasn’t satisfied so I gave her money back, and in return I thought we’d get our necklace”.
While Mr Olsen was happy with the original bid of just over $6,000 he puts his losses at between US$10,000 and $12,000 – the amount he could have sold the piece for in the United States, where Georg Jensen jewellery attracts high prices. “We just want back what is ours,” Leo Olsen says. “We’ve spent over a year now trying to pressure Ms Prater to return the original items we sent her. She can have what she sent to us back, it’s worthless. She already has her money, all we want is our property back”.
Meanwhile Ms Prater, while maintaining her innocence, seems to have shut up shop on eBay – Gallery 925 is no longer a user. Mr Olsen initially closed his eBay account, upset with the outcome, but has since re-opened it. Again, he has received 100 percent positive feedback since December 2013.