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The intangible value of antique books usually exceeds the resale value achieved. Image: rawpixel.com / freepik

Rip-off with new old books

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Increasingly, dubious offers of new and antique books are being made in door-to-door sales. Advertisers are defrauding pensioners of thousands of euros by persuading them to invest in replicas of printed works or the certification of their own library. The offers have one thing in common - the promise to make a lucrative investment with books. The majority of these promises are highly dubious!

Books rip-off now also with us

The windy booksellers have found their target group mainly among older people from the 1930s or 1940s. But working people also fall for the rip-off with overpriced books. The "business" has been going on in Germany for more than 15 years and has repeatedly been the subject of German radio programmes on WDR, Sat1, ZDF and BR. However, in the last two years the dubious providers and their domestic offshoots have also discovered Austria, Switzerland and Belgium as a market. In the process, sales strategies and corresponding contractual clauses have been adapted. About 15 German companies from Germany are on the list of the law firm SDK (Bielefeld), which represents about 1500 overcharged persons before German courts and a damage sum in the millions.

How it happens

"Sales representatives" of most of these companies have been on the road for years, and they usually initiate door-to-door business by phone call. The advertisers arouse interest, for example, by saying that the Bertelsmann or Brockhaus encyclopaedias are now certified UNESCO world heritage artifacts and collectors will now pay a lot of money for them. Unfortunately, many of those called then agree when the sellers invite themselves into their homes. No matter whether it is an encyclopaedia, a book collection or an antique Bible - the allegedly good value of the printed works is always promised, a significant increase in value is to be expected, and a guaranteed resale value is given. Many people who are bounced do not buy old books out of love for them, but simply because of the supposed profit.

Old books are only a good investment if you know exactly what you are doing. For sought-after copies, the appreciation rates are in the stable double-digit range. Nevertheless, care must be taken when selling them. Specialist auction houses for old books charge hefty prices for resale. 60% of the book value and more are retained as commission after a successful auction.

The following methods are reported:

  1. Appropriated reputation
    The people who come to the flat sometimes claim to come from a renowned publishing house, for example Bertelsmann or Brockhaus. This is simply a lie to get a foot in your door. The book clubs of these publishers (Lexikothek) had several million members in the 80s and 90s. Only they have not existed since 2014 and the old customer databases apparently fell into the wrong hands.
    We advise you not to get involved in any meetings and to send away any unsolicited advertisers. Never sign contracts at the front door!
  2. "Complete" the lexicon collection
    On the phone, potential customers are offered to come and examine their own encyclopaedia or book collection for a lucrative resale. At the on-site appointment, the representatives then advise the purchase of copies that would be missing from the collection and whose addition would supposedly make the collection much more valuable. After the purchase, however, the collection is not resold as hoped and the customers are left with their issues - old and new. The books are attractively decorated with leather bindings and optical ornaments, such as semi-precious stones, but are definitely not worth the high sums of several thousand euros. On the contrary, since the freely accessible knowledge portals on the internet, printed encyclopaedias have experienced a dramatic decline in value, no matter how opulent they may look. Even if splendid volumes do not serve their main purpose as reference works and appeal to a completely different target group, this has damaged their value in general.
    Use the 14-day right of withdrawal for doorstep selling! In view of the completely excessive book price, the contract may be void due to usury and must be examined in each individual case.
  3. Digital book index
    Here, customers sign a contract granting the agent access to the home for the purpose of inventorying an online database. The promise is that one's book collection will be so much easier for potential buyers to view and thus its value would increase considerably. A "certificate of authenticity" is issued and a representative plaque is sent in a casket. Customers are offered further purchases from the dealer's range and an instalment plan. Acquisition of the dealer's own books and "certificate" cost customers between 1500 and 3000 euros. A withdrawal form is included in the contracts we have.
    You should cancel this contract within 14 days and the company must refund any payment you have made. You will need to return any purchased books and the badge.
  4. Estate administration
    The latest scam is to persuade elderly customers in particular to have their library registered by the agent and bequeathed in its entirety to their heirs after their death. In doing so, the agents rely on the emotional attachment of the book owners to their own cherished collection, on the preservation of its entirety, and suggest exaggerated material values, which laymen cannot verify. The company promises that the book collection would be inherited in its entirety and charges for the inventory in its own sales platform and its possible sales processing for the owners themselves or their heirs. Owners are thus offered the prospect of a higher value in order to persuade them to pay for the expensive service. However, the listing of the collection on the sales platform does not increase the resale value, which would potentially benefit the heirs, because it was not normally already available in the promised amount.
    If you want to bequeath your library in its entirety, you should have it notarised.
  5. Financing
    For the large sums, instalment plans are often part of the contract. Agents also arrange loan agreements with a bank, often when clients have been persuaded to make a purchase at an advanced age and cannot spontaneously afford the expense. In the worst case, these loans can threaten the existence of people receiving a minimum pension, for example.
  6. Usury in kind for facsimile
    The purchase of facsimiles (reproductions of historical works) such as ancient bibles, atlases, scores etc. is not to be discouraged across the board, but only if the price is reasonable. However, dubious publishers sell various splendid copies far above their actual value. Facsimiles become a losing proposition when laymen are duped into buying mass-produced products or products advertised as unique, which, after independent examination, turn out to be a pig in a poke. The value of a facsimile results from three factors:
  • Craftsmanship quality: The execution of the problematic pieces as partial facsimiles is not an exact replica of an antique original. The editions offered for sale may look splendid at first glance, and their appearance is intended to impress laymen in particular. But they are far less valuable than scientifically correct facsimiles. A reputable publisher can present a certified expert's report on the piece at the time of sale. Such experts check the cost expenditure and methodology of the producers of the books independently of the publisher. Dubious publishers, on the other hand, only protect the appearance of value with self-made certificates.
  • Circulation strength: There are simply too many of them, the print run is too large. For example, the first edition of the Coron Verlag Bibles from the 1990s was already printed in the thousands and repeatedly reproduced. The two books used to sell for around 2500 EUR, experts currently see their value at around 300 EUR.
  • Demand: In the long term, it can be observed that the market is shrinking, the number of collectors is decreasing, the outdated group of buyers is dying off, and there are hardly any new ones.

    Inferior facsimile editions, according to certified experts, are considered hard to sell, contrary to the promises of the advertisers, and one only gets back a fraction of the new acquisition value when selling. Even the promise of the seller to help with resale is not kept. Such sales agents are usually no longer reachable after the contract has been concluded. The ECC has cases where aggrieved parties spent around 10,000 euros for facsimiles which, according to expert opinions, are worth a few hundred euros at most. Cases are known from German print media where customers even spent tens of thousands to over a hundred thousand euros for longer contract periods.
    It is advisable to obtain an expert opinion from a court-certified expert, which will also hold up in a lawsuit. Buyers are often not informed about their cancellation rights in accordance with the law; with our help you can first try to cancel the purchase contract out of court. If this does not help, a lawsuit is worth considering.

High damage and great shame

In summary, these services are scams with pretended values. Whether replicating antique copies, filling in missing encyclopaedias or managing one's own book collection, the promised increases in value are misleading. As soon as the deal is closed, the agents owe the promised support. Those who have been ripped off in this way and have lost several thousand euros often feel ashamed of their own gullibility or the greed of wanting to have made a quick buck with this. We often observe that only representatives or relatives of the victims contact our counselling centre. However, it is important to act quickly, because doorstep selling can only be reversed relatively easily as long as not too much time has passed!


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