Looking to purchase renowned artwork? How do you know it’s the real thing? 1,000 taken in “art fraud ring”

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- The internet is a great resource for finding unique items -- but how can you tell if you're truly getting what you paid for? When it comes to artwork, it isn't easy, but there are three ways to make sure you're getting your money's worth.

Michael Zabrin is accused of selling forged art prints to undercover postal inspectors.

"We would attend some of the art shows and we would engage the dealers selling the counterfeit art, so having that one-on-one conversation with somebody who is committing a crime is great evidence for us," U.S. Postal Inspector Tom Brady said.

The sting operation was one phase of an international art fraud ring that cost 1,000 victims more than $10 million.

"They bought it from a variety of places. Some were from Internet auction sites, some were from galleries, some from art shows, and some were even purchased on cruise ships, so there is a wide range of where the art was purchased," Brady said.

Counterfeit work by world-renowned artists, such as Marc Chagall, Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso were allegedly for sale.

"They were marketing them as original, signed, limited edition prints, so for someone who is an art collector, that is a dream for them to buy a signed limited edition print by that artist," Brady said.

Some victims paid up to $50,000 for one painting.

"When they went to try to re-sell them, they were finding that these were counterfeit and they were not what they thought they were," Brady said.

After multiple consumer complaints, gallery and art experts helped postal inspectors track down the bogus art.

"This turned out to be one of the largest art fraud investigations we`ve ever conducted. We seized over 25,000 counterfeit prints in the course of the investigation," Brady said.

Postal inspectors say it is important to do your research. Consumers should ask for a certificate of authenticity -- and they could also ask the seller for a history of where the seller obtained the print.

"Contact people, ask questions. Don`t feel pressured to make a purchase because it`s here today," Brady said.

Zabrin is a twice-convicted felon and a member of the counterfeit art ring. He was sentenced to nine years in prison for his role in this case. 22 other people have been arrested or convicted with links to this case.