Zum Inhalt
Mann im Anzug übergibt alter Frau Bücher an der Haustür
The intangible value of antique books usually exceeds the resale value achieved. Image: SpeedKingZ / Shutterstock

Usury with books

Facsimiles, i.e. replicas, of magnificent antique volumes, bibles or encyclopaedias are sold for thousands of euros in door-to-door sales. The victims are mainly elderly or old people. They were promised a safe investment. It later transpires that they were sold relatively worthless books.

Procedure of the sales scam

Männliche Hand in Anzug drückt den Zeigefinger auf eine Gegensprechanlage neben einer Holztür
Image: Aomas / Shutterstock

Many of these dubious door-to-door canvassers have been around for years and are real persuaders. They are looking for a gullible target group and mainly contact older age groups. But working people also fall for the scam of overpriced books if they believe in the alleged increase in value.

Often the first step in initiating such a door-to-door sales transaction is an  
exploratory call. Interest is aroused, for example, by the rumour that the Bertelsmann or Brockhaus encyclopaedias are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and that collectors would be prepared to spend a lot of money on them. Some then agree when the callers invite themselves into the victim's home. Others come directly to the front door because they have old customer data stolen from a renowned publishing house and know that the target has a long-purchased encyclopaedia collection at home. Various companies with access to this data appear to be involved, and the police are investigating commercial fraud and other criminal offences.

Whether it's a series of encyclopaedias, a magnificent volume of an encyclopaedia or reproductions (so-called facsimiles) of, for example, ancient scrolls, scores of famous pieces of music, large-format atlases or decorated bibles from the Middle Ages, the promise is always of a secure increase in value before the supposedly easy resale in the future. That's why many people don't buy old books out of love for them, but simply out of an expectation of profit. As if by chance, the sellers have the book that is missing from the collection on offer and persuade the victims to make further purchases that will supposedly completely and massively enhance the collection.

⚠️ The most common problem with such contracts is the fantasy price paid, which will never be achieved when trying to resell the item.

Case example

Screenshot der anonymisierten Nachricht einer Betroffenen vom Bücherbetrug
Anonymised German language message from a victim to us, illustrating the rip-off process. Image: EVZ Österreich

Profiteering with facsimiles

Reich illustriertes antikes aufgeschlagenes Buch
⚠️ Victims are often not informed of their cancellation rights in accordance with the law. With our help, they first try to cancel the purchase contract out of court. If this does not help, a lawsuit is worth considering. Image: Zvonimir Atletic / Shutterstock

The purchase of facsimiles is not to be discouraged across the board. These are reproductions of historical printed works, for example magnificent antique bibles, atlases, musical scores, etc. Of course, this only applies if the price and quality are appropriate. This is because dubious publishers sell facsimiles far above their actual value. It quickly becomes a loss-making business when mass products advertised as unique are foisted on laypeople. Their value does not stand up to independent scrutiny. It is advisable to obtain an expert opinion from a court-certified expert, which will also stand up in a court case, before signing the contract.

Three factors determine the value of a facsimile:

  • Circulation: There are simply too many of them, the print run is too large. For example, the first edition of the Bibles distributed by publisher Coron in the 1990s was already printed in their thousands and has been produced again and again. The two books used to be sold for around 2500 EUR. Experts currently estimate their value at around EUR 300.
  • Demand: In the long term, it can be observed that the market is shrinking and the number of collectors is decreasing. The ageing group of buyers is dying off and there are hardly any new ones.
  • Craftsmanship quality: The execution of the problematic pieces as partial facsimiles is not an exact replica of an antique original. The editions on sale may look splendid at first glance, and their appearance is intended to impress laymen in particular. However, they are far less valuable than scientifically correct facsimiles. A reputable publisher can provide an assessment from a certified expert when selling a facsimile. These experts check the costs and methodology of the book manufacturer independently of the publisher. Dubious publishers, on the other hand, only feign the appearance of value with self-made certificates.
Historiker:in prüft antikes Buch mit Lupe und Handschuhen
Image: Stock Holm / Shutterstock

According to certified experts, partial facsimiles are almost impossible to sell. No matter what was promised at the doorstep sale, a sale only brings a fraction of the new purchase value. The help promised during the sales talk for the subsequent resale also fails to materialise and the staff can no longer be contacted after the contract has been signed.

The ECC is aware of cases where injured parties have spent many thousands of euros on facsimiles. These were then valued at a maximum of a few hundred euros in the neutral expert report. The media repeatedly report cases with losses ranging from tens of thousands to over a hundred thousand euros when victims have made repeated purchases over long periods of time. However, if cancellation notices were provided when the sale was concluded, these are often inadequate.

There are different legal bases for cancelling such contracts. If you have been the victim of facsimile fraud, there are often other legal remedies apart from the 14-day blanket right to cancel the contract for doorstep selling. You should therefore quickly seek legal advice from a consumer protection organisation or a law firm. The contracts are often invalid or contestable.

Dishonest sales methods

Rotes Gebäudeschild mit Logo, darunter Schriftzug "DER CLUB" , darunter "Bertelsmann"
⚠️ We advise you not to agree to any meetings and to send unsolicited canvassers away. Never sign contracts at the front door! Image: 360b / Shutterstock

Appropriated reputation

The people who come to the flat sometimes claim to be 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 haven't existed since 2014 and the old customer databases have apparently fallen into the wrong hands.

Nummerierte Reihe Bücher im roten Ledereinband
⚠️ Use the 14-day right of cancellation for doorstep selling! In view of the completely inflated book price, it is conceivable that the contract is void for usury and must be examined on a case-by-case basis. Image: Otmar Smit / Shutterstock

Complete lexicon collection

Over the phone, potential customers are offered the opportunity to have their own collection inspected for a lucrative resale. At the appointment on site, they are then advised to purchase missing items, for example from an encyclopaedia series. The addition would make the collection much more valuable, they say. After the purchase, however, the books are not resold as hoped and customers are left holding on to their copies - old and new.

At first glance, the books look appealing, with leather bindings and optical decorations. The semi-precious stone used turns out to be coloured glass, the ornamental metal edgings are not made of precious metal but are dyed and glued on, the binding and clasps are inferior, the binding is mere imitation leather. The books are definitely not worth several thousand euros.

Following the hawking of a reprint of the missing copy of the encyclopaedia collection, a book is suggested for order that has absolutely nothing to do with the series. It is supposed to complete the collection and greatly enhance it. To be on the safe side, its title is not mentioned properly so that no suspicion of incoherence arises.

Älterer Herr mit grauen Haaren in weißem Hemd und mit Brille vor einem Cpmputerbidlschirm auf dem Listenkalkulationen zu sehen sind
⚠️ You should withdraw from such a contract within 14 days, this is the easiest way to reverse the contract. Image: Studio Romantic / Shutterstoch

Digital book register

The victims are persuaded to "certify" their existing book collection. Here they sign a contract granting them access to their home for an inventory in an online database. The promise is that their own book collection will be much easier to view for potential buyers and that this would significantly increase its value.

A dubious certificate of authenticity is then issued and a prestigious plaque is sent in a box. Customers are offered further purchases from the range and an instalment plan. Registering your own books and "certificate" costs between 1500 and 3000 euros. Check whether you have been given a cancellation form. For door-to-door sales that you regret, you have two weeks to cancel the purchase. Sales staff often do not inform customers about their right of cancellation or withdrawal in accordance with the law.

In such a situation, the cancellation period is extended by 12 months. It is therefore possible that you may still be able to withdraw from the contract months later. In any case, those affected should seek legal advice from a consumer protection organisation such as the Association for Consumer Information / the European Consumer Centre or a lawyer. If you withdraw from the contract, the company must refund any payments made. This includes returning any books purchased and any badge received.

Papierblatt, welches gerade durch gehaltene Füllfeder mit dem Wort "Testament" beschrieben wird
⚠️ If you want to bequeath your library as a whole, you should arrange this with a notary. Image: SLindenau / Shutterstock

Estate administration

Elderly people in particular are persuaded to have their own library catalogued by the company representatives. In this way, when they pass away, everything should be passed on to their heirs more easily and collectively. Here, the advertisers rely on the emotional connection to the cherished book collection and the desire to preserve it as a whole. The company pays dearly for the inclusion in its own sales platform and subsequent sales processing for the heirs. A higher than real sales value is promised to make this expensive but rather pointless service appear more interesting. Laypersons are unable to verify the exaggerated material values. Even the listing on the sales platform does not increase the value that heirs are supposed to benefit from. Normally, the value that was deliberately overestimated in the sales pitch did not exist from the outset.

Alter Mann in einem Innenraum sitzt an einem Schriftstück mit bestürztem Gesichtsausdruck greift sich an den Kopf
⚠️ Never take out loans for uncertain investments. Image: Caftor / Shutterstock


Given the high costs, instalment plans are often part of the rip-off. If a customer has been persuaded to make a purchase at an advanced age and cannot afford it on the spur of the moment, a loan application for a specific bank in Germany is co-signed. In the worst-case scenario, these loans can jeopardise the existence of the company, as in one of our cases involving a recipient of the minimum pension. We are aware that the associated German bank appears to have granted the loans without a legally required credit check. We advise you to legally check the loan agreements. As a rule, there is a right of cancellation in accordance with Section 13 of the Consumer Credit Act, and the sales agents usually do not have a business licence to broker loan agreements.


Ältere Frau mit Brille sitzt in einer Bibliothek an einem Tisch und liest ein Buch in Händen
⚠️ In general, you should get a neutral expert opinion on a purchase that you don't know much about. And from a person with no interest in selling! Bear in mind that such expert opinions are expensive and whether the purchase is still an option despite these additional costs! Image: Ermolaev Alexander / Shutterstock

Specialists know that books can only be a good investment if you are well versed in the subject matter. It is true that sought-after and genuine book rarities achieve value growth rates in the stable double-digit range. However, care must be taken here too! Facsimiles of printed antiquities only have a chance of being resold if they have been produced accordingly. You should not simply take the word of sales staff, who are quick to offer dubious self-certifications from the publisher, that this is the case. Instead, have them checked independently. The publisher's own digital platforms, where your own collection can be listed, also generally do not increase the real prospect of a sale, as misleadingly advertised in the sales pitch.

Bärtiger Mann mit Mikrofon und Versteigerungshammer in Händen
⚠️ Before registering for an auction, find out the exact listing fees and the success commission! Image: Andranik Hakobyan / Shutterstock

Substantial fees can be incurred for the auction of valuable printed works. Expenses include catalogue/illustration fees, insurance (about 2% of the estimated price), compensation for the so-called resale right (about 4%) if the copyright of the artwork has to be paid when it is sold, transport costs, appraisal costs, a withdrawal fee if you change your mind and the largest part is the success commission. This so-called "buyer's premium" is due when the auction hammer strikes. The commission is around 25% of the sales proceeds. For speciality items with a small group of potential buyers, such as book antiques, this can be higher. In total, up to 60% of the final price may be due.

Alter Mann mit trauerndem oder beschämten Gesichtsausdruck faltet die Hände vor dem Gesicht
⚠️ It is important to act quickly. The sooner you react, the more countermeasures are available. Image: Bricolage / Shutterstock

Great damage and great shame

To summarise, it can be said that these services are scams with fake values. Whether reproducing antique copies, supplementing missing encyclopaedias or managing your own book collection, the promised increases in value are misleading. As soon as the deal is finalised, any support promised at the time of purchase for a resale does not materialise. Anyone who has been ripped off in this way and lost several thousand euros often feels very ashamed of their own gullibility. Time and again, we see that only representatives or relatives of the victims contact our advice centre.

Book fraud in video reports

The scam has been running in Germany for over 15 years and has repeatedly been the subject of German radio programmes (WDR, Sat1, ZDF, BR). Dubious offshoots and domestic partner companies are also increasingly active in Austria, Switzerland and Belgium. In 2023, "Der Spiegel" repeatedly reported on the fraud with books, the two videos open the Spiegel TV reports on YouTube.

The list of the law firm SDK from Bielefeld includes a large number of companies involved. This specialised law firm, which appears in the video, is representing around 2,500 fraudsters in German courts and is disputing millions in damages.

The third video from SpiegelTV sheds light on who is behind this dubious scam. Anyone who has suffered a major financial loss is best advised to contact the police and the SDK or other legal organisations, for example. The out-of-court route no longer makes sense in the case of commercial fraud.


Bear in mind that the printed works labelled as facsimiles by advertising staff and offered for thousands of euros usually only cost a few euros to produce in the Far East, for example. These are therefore extortionate offers!

In the facsimile cases, we assume systematic and commercial fraud, the formation of a criminal organisation and usury. For this reason, it is advisable to file a complaint with the police. If you have legal expenses insurance, you should contact it and have the criminal complaint filed directly by a lawyer.

  • We therefore advise you not to get involved in any meetings and to send unsolicited recruiters away!
  • Never sign contracts at the front door or in your home! If you have already purchased facsimiles at 
  • Inflated prices, report the incident to the police and seek legal advice! 
  • Try to have payments that have already been made reversed via your bank!


Share this post

Facebook Twitter Drucken E-Mail

This could also be of interest:

Zum Seitenanfang