Preventing Item Replacement Fraud Part II

As described in a previous article on this topic, "Preventing False Item Substitution: Part One – Your Photos," illustrating specifics about an item with multiple photos is the primary way you can protect yourself from return item substitutions. There are others ways to prevent fraud which when combined with good quality photos can reduce your risk even more.

Using dealer specific marks, hidden or plainly seen, or tagging an item (only when the tag will not damage the item) can also help prevent return problems. A benefit of a tagged and numbered security marking system is it can double as your inventory control system. When marking or tagging an item be sure to always consider the nature of each antique or collectible piece. Often items are fragile or irreplaceable, so marks and tags need to be applied with discretion. Granted, the item may have been in perfect condition when it left your shop but if the customer has difficulty removing the tag and damages the piece in the process, such as peeling off a glued-on tag from paper goods, then they have good reason to return it for a refund. Like a restoration treatment, any tag or mark you place on an antique piece should not be permanent and should be easily removed, leaving the underlying item unharmed.

Some dealers mark hard surface pieces like glass with water soluble, invisible ink pens. Markings made with these pens cannot be seen except under a black light and are removable by simply washing. ‘Invisible’ marking pens can be found at most office supply stores and black lights are easy to find as well.

Ordinary price stickers work well also, and especially for items that won’t be damaged by their removal and they are available almost anywhere. After noting the sticker with pertinent shop identification information, such as item number, some dealers take the added step of cutting into the corners with scissors or a razor blade before application to the item. The cuts make the tag virtually impossible to peel away in one piece.

Antiquarian and collectible books are one of the most difficult objects to attach a security device without damaging the book and possibly affecting the value of the book. In the case of used books, taking a clear, tight image of a peculiarity, like a strangely shaped scraped spot on the spine, is often all that needs to be done. For absolutely mint condition aged books no mark should be required, as it wouldn’t make sense to substitute another in like condition for the original purchase. Libraries often include a penciled number or similar device on an inside page to denote a library copy. Since this might be easily seen and copied, however, another suggestion would be to note in your inventory records that on a particular page in the book you added lightly penciled punctuation, like a comma or quotation marks, to the text. Taking and retaining a picture of the page (or pages) to document how such marks had been placed in a specific line of text would be useful. Without being aware of such notations, or knowing on which page such very small marks might have been made, it would be very time consuming and difficult for someone to find them in order to copy them in the same location in a lesser quality ‘return.’

For clothing or jewelry, common (small) retail security tags can sometimes be used. If a tag is attached where it will show when worn, it can also help prevent the temptation to try the ‘single wear for one event and return’ purchase. Tag attachment devices that apply these kinds of tags on thin plastic threads can be used on many types of textile items without damaging them if attached with care. The tools can also be used for tagging most jewelry, since the needle that inserts the plastic thread can go through a small opening or loop in a chain. Other kinds of tags, like the adhesive barbell tags most often used for items like rings, may be found to be useful for marking other types of small non-jewelry items, too.

Being aware of potential problems, no matter how infrequent they might occur, and taking steps to discourage them, is a good idea. But loudly proclaiming in your shop (figuratively speaking) that you take these steps, implying you do so because you don't trust your customers is not a good idea. Your many honest customers may be offended, and this can cost you sales. Instead, have a good return policy along with terms of sale. With respect to your return policy we recommend giving the customer a set time frame to return an item, stating how you want the item packaged and shipped, whether insurance is required (and it should be) and what condition you expect the item to be returned in, such as “in the same condition as when it was shipped to you with the shop's tags and identifying marks intact” is essential if you want your customer to know what you expect in advance of a sale should a return be necessary, and it will help to ensure a smooth return process with little room for error or misunderstanding. Along with good practices like multiple photos, keeping them as long as they may be needed, and using tags or labels when they are appropriate, your shops Return Policy will help to encourage a safe and rewarding sales experience for both buyer and seller.

We have supplied some examples of commercial Web sources for tags and labels below, but we do not recommend any company in particular. We are including this type of information to help you get started in the process of vetting services for yourself. Other resources can be found by searching the Web:


The Retailers Catalog


Tags and hand held tag attachers:


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