You will notice that all over this website I advise collectors to get as many opinions as possible before purchasing a helmet. I am not kidding when I say that wolves lurk behind the bushes looking for easy prey and some of them are even in our midst dressed up as sheep. What they want is your money , the less you know the easier it is for them to trick you.
This hobby attracts small time scam artists and well organized groups of ‘criminals’ intent on committing fraud. Most collectors with some years under their belt know the frauds but it has become a somewhat accepted evil in our hobby because legally (and individually)there is little you can do about it. So we are left with spreading the news and making collectors aware of their modus operandi.
I will start with the biggest and most widely spread scam of all.
The mixed inventory with money back guarantee scam
A dealer with a mixed inventory has both authentic World war 2 pieces and fakes.
Situation sketch : You look around the www and come across several dealers with a nice inventory of military items. Some names are very familiar and that gives you confidence , you read their policy and they offer life time warranty and money back guarantee.
Scammers call this the hook.
You are confident now and decide to safely purchase a 5000 euro/dollars SS helmet which is delivered swiftly at your door. Great service and hey it even comes with a certificate of originality !
Let’s continue the story with several alternate endings :
- You pass away and your kids sell your collection , it turns out that fantastic 5000 euros SS helmet was a 200 euro fake. (and let’s hope it was the only fake you bought in those years of collecting). Loss 5000 euros. Profit for the dealer 4800 euros.
- After a couple of years you decide to sell your collection , the helmet is discussed online and outed as a fake ! Panic ensues , you lost 5000 euros , no wait , I have a lifetime warranty with money back guarantee. You search for the dealer on internet but it appears he closed up shop and sold his business to someone else whom of course does not honor the agreements the previous dealer made with his customers. Loss 5000 euros. Profit for the dealer 4800 euros.
- 4 years after your purchase you decide to join a forum and share your collection. People tell you with proof that your SS helmet is fake. Panic ensues and you contact the dealer. He tries to convince you the helmet is real , do you have proof , why do you suddenly think the helmet is bad ? He puts the burden of proof on you but you give him a link to the forum and because of your persistence he agrees to offer your money back excluding shipping costs. While this scenario offers the most positive outcome you will see that the house always wins. The profit and loss calculation becomes a little bit more difficult.
- You lost shipping back and forth : Loss 60 euros.
- You lost any increase in value your helmet could have gathered in 4 years.
- You were not able to put your 5000 euros to better use in those 4 years.
- So your money was locked at a negative interest. So how did the dealer profit from this seemingly non-profit transaction ?
- The dealer gained an interest free loan of 5000 euros for 4 years (or full profit if the fraud was not discovered).
- With your money he was able to do business and make more money while your money was locked in a piece of cheap junk.
The third scenario shows perfectly why this is a good scam , worst case he got a free investment. Best case he made a huge profit , in either case it’s a win for the scammer and a loss for the collector.
Dealers when confronted always pretend they didn’t know the item was fake , they can’t know everything and so on. While no-one can know everything it is in the end their job to make sure they limit such number of mistakes. But unfortunately a lot of dealers keep working with mixed inventory.
Selling cheap high quality militaria online via second hand websites scam
This scam virtually applies to everything for sale online. Basically the scammer steals photos from forums and websites and posts them on second hand sites all over the world. My photos have been abused for that purpose and also those of collectors I know. The adverts can turn up in the USA or Europe.
The lure is the price , the scammer will go 30 to 40% below market value. What you get at best is an empty box.
Scams like these are very easy to avoid by using common sense however I know people that were tricked regardless.
What to check :
- Price is a powerful lure but think about it , no collector would sell at huge discounts.
- Sellers posting in foreign languages are always a red flag
- Avoid a seller with zero or low feedback and always check if the feedback is not suspicious
- If the advert is posted in your country check if the seller agrees to meet you. If he can’t and makes up an excuse that he travels a lot or lives abroad you know you are dealing with a scammer.
- Check if the photos of his adverts all are of the same quality and background , often they steal photos from several sites so there will be a distinct difference.
How to combat these suckers ? Easy. Report their adverts to the for sale site management and they will get removed. Make other collectors aware on forums that a fraud is posting adverts and on which sites. And if you want to have fun correspond with him and waste his time.
The “it’s in a book” scam
Books have been abused for many years for getting fakes authenticated. For many decades collectors have looked up to authors of militaria books as the sole guardians and fountains of knowledge. False information in such books be it unintentional or intentional made many victims until such information was revealed to be untrue. In a world without internet a book and networking with other collectors were the only sources of information.
Today collectors should realise that authors are also just collectors. Even the best helmet books today have mistakes or unconfirmed findings in them. The worst books show obvious fakes and tell utter lies.
One of the first books that I heard of that was published with many doctored up fakes is the Radovic book called German helmets of the second world war. Published in 2002.
In 2004 Kelly Hicks released his SS steel book to much critical acclaim. He also started up his website for selling helmets and selling Certificates of Authenticity. Several other versions with expansions were released over the years. In 2014 after years of controversy one of the SS decals in the book was outed as a fake. More details can be found here
In 2011 a book appeared on my radar on Camouflage helmets , one of the toughest subjects for collectors due to the many fakes. The book is called Normandy 44 German helmets , author is Dan Tylisz. The book contains many fake helmets with fake decals and the collectors that provided the few originals in the book (which due to the bad photography are undiscernible from the fakes) will have their contributions linked to a crap book forever.
Just now in 2018 another piece of garbage surfaced which is filled with cheap Euro fake helmets which you can buy at any fair since the eighties. Peter Nash’s work German Combat helmets 1933 – 1945 wins the sandpaper toilet roll award of worst book in the history of books on German helmets. More here.
Why are fakes helmets put in books you ask ? Well the author may very well be unaware and it that case it is probably a simple mistake. If the book has a ton of fakes in it coupled with misinformation then it is a clear attempt of a scam.
Helmets in such books will become for sale with the flavour text added under the photos “It’s in a reference book”.
It came from the woodwork or it was a show walk in
Many original helmets today are still found in the possession of the veteran’s families , found in old houses and cellars. Sometimes the owners of these historical pieces take them to a military fair to sell them. I know many collectors whom put a lot of time in trying to find helmets like that and are very successful. I know guys in France, Norway and the USA that have built their collection that way.
But it does not mean that a helmet can be purchased blindly from the woodwork. There are people that will deliberately label a helmet as a woodwork find to give it more credence. If you can buy a helmet that was ‘just’ found out of the woodwork or was a show walk in that means you can be the real first or second owner. A lot of collectors love that. That said as with any purchase check things out before you buy because fakers are trying to infuse their fakes via all means possible. Often these helmets will be camo’s as camo helmets that are well made are more difficult to assess for most collectors and they make collectors more impulsive. Wow a woodwork camo !
Also on ebay you can run into these kind of helmets supposedly being sold by a non-collector that found the helmet in his grand parents house so the story would be.
Ground dug helmets
There are collectors that are scared off by helmets in good condition , they are more expensive and they do not want to be burned on a fake. Their reasoning is that a helmet in bad condition which is a lot cheaper will be ignored by fakers. They are wrong on both accounts. First of all helmets in good condition are much easier to authenticate and secondly ground dug helmets are being upgraded for financial gain.
The story that comes with ground dug helmets is often found on that well known battle field. Most are upgraded with fake SS decals. If well done fakes are hard to spot because they need to be quite damaged so as to fit with the corrosion on the shell surface.
Like I mentioned before don’t be impulsive. Think before you buy and ask around. For the smart collector there is always plenty of good original stuff to purchase.