Forget Cyber Fraud. Fungible Fraud Is Missed Too

September 8, 2022

Though cybercrime continues to grab headlines, it seems the old-fashioned kind is still a thing. Eight months after a Canadian heist was executed, reveals Smithsonian Magazine, “Hotel Discovers Its Famous Churchill Portrait Was Swapped with a Fake.” Readers may recognize the Roaring Lion as the much-reproduced photograph taken by Yousuf Karsh in 1941. The iconic image even made it onto England’s five-pound note in 2016. One of Karsh’s original, signed prints was proudly displayed at Ottawa’s Fairmont Château Laurier until some grinch replaced it with a forgery around last year’s winter holidays. It was the frame that, eventually, gave the imposter away. Reporter Ella Feldman writes:

“On the night of August 19, an employee at the hotel, the Fairmont Château Laurier, noticed that the frame containing their prized print did not match the other frames on the wall. The hotel called Jerry Fielder, director of Karsh’s estate, who requested a photo of the signature. ‘I’ve seen that signature for 43 years. So it took me just one second to know that someone had tried to copy it,’ Fielder tells the Guardian’s Leyland Cecco. ‘It was a fake.’ Hotel officials say that the photograph was stolen about eight months ago. Genevieve Dumas, the hotel’s general manager, tells CTV News that based on images submitted by the public, they’ve narrowed down the date of the heist to somewhere between December 25, 2021 and January 6, 2022. The hotel is asking anyone who has images of the photograph taken around that time to send them in.”

To put the loss in economic perspective, another signed original print of the portrait sold at auction for $62,500 in 2020. But it is about much more than money for the venerable hotel, which had close ties with Karsh. The photographer held his first exhibition there in 1936 and, in 1972, moved his photography studio to the site. Eight years later the Fairmont became home to Karsh and his wife Estrellita, who gifted the original print to the hotel after her husband’s death in 2002. An investigation into the theft is under way. We hope the eight-month trail has not grown too cold.

Cynthia Murrell, September 8, 2022

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