EXTRA!
The Collecting Times
EXTRA!


FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 2002


PRICE: THIRTY-FIVE CENTS

COMPUTER COLLECTORS CRACK COUNTERFEIT CASE

CONNIVING CLASSIC-CLONING CULPRIT CAUGHT!
COPIED CRANSTONS CONTAIN CRUCIAL CLUES!


PEORIA, ILLINOIS-- It's always a hideous shame when someone you thought you could trust, someone who always seemed to have a genuine interest in old games, turns out to be nothing more than a greed-motivated profiteer intent on exploiting others for quick cash any way he can... including producing fakes of rare items and passing them off as genuine originals. It seems our little hobby has finally hit the big time, as we now have a counterfeiter in our midst. (And just when we thought we'd had the issue of original shrinkwrap under control.) What follows is the story of how I first learned of this person from a number of other collectors, and what we did about it. Names have been concealed to protect the innocent, but not the guilty.

If you're a Sierra collector, you may have caught the recent eBay auctions by a 'davidwolf5', located in Israel. Shortly after those closed, I got an e-mail from someone we'll call Collector "A", who noticed that both the seller and 'eyalkatz', one of the bidders (not the winner) were now NARU, Not A Registered User. Both IDs were made inactive, simultaneously, following a set of auctions in which both parties participated. While there are several possible explanations for this, the most likely by far is that eBay caught the seller engaging in the highly illegal practice of shill bidding: using an alternate eBay ID to bid on your own auctions for the purpose of driving the price up.

Now I know (or thought I knew) the booted bidder, Eyal Katz. In the past I'd always gotten along with him, and in fact at the time I was even making him a bunch of scans, at his request, for a Sierra museum page he was putting together. I would never have pegged him as someone to pull a stunt like this. But talking with Collector "A", some curious circumstances came to light: Katz also lives in Israel and uses the same ISP (Bezeq International) as the seller David Wolf. E-mails from David Wolf contain the same lower-case typing and punctuation style as Eyal Katz's. An auction by Katz, saved by "A" from earlier this year, contains the exact same layout and much of the same wording as the recent David Wolf auctions (now preserved here in case eBay takes them down). Not just similar styles. IDENTICAL. Two eBay accounts, same country, same ISP, identical auction layouts. David Wolf's account is new, zero feedback, just created. Coincidence?

The deception continues: While Eyal Katz's auction gave his city (Ramat Hasharon), David Wolf's gave Israel for the location but United States as the country. But since it's much harder to fake a credit card account than an eBay one, both individuals' PayPal accounts are under the same name... Eyal Katz.

Now, Collector "A" had also traded with this guy a couple of times before, and the first time had a very positive experience, but the second... "A" contacted him about the Sierra Ultima I Eyal had once listed on eBay, and Eyal said he still had it for sale. Eyal's explanation was that the eBay deal had not gone through and thus he had held onto the game. But when "A" asked the winning bidder from that auction, he was told the item had been paid for and received. So, for whatever reason, Eyal had lied to "A" about this. He promised "A" that, since he typically finds this item 2-3 times per year, he'd pull the next one aside for him.

The e-mail I got from "A" also detailed a botched GameTZ trade with Eyal earlier this year, in which Eyal claims the package he was supposed to receive from "A" never arrived (even though it was sent with delivery confirmation, and a tracking investigation revealed it was in fact delivered). "A" never got his package from Eyal either. Both packages mysteriously "lost", in a trade with someone who's since been caught both in a lie and in a shill-bidding scam. Coincidence??

Okay, so "A" caught Eyal in a couple of dishonest deals, and eBay booted him off for shilling, but it ends there, right? Hold on. A few days later I get an e-mail from another Sierra collector (Collector "B"), who had just bought some Cranston Manor On-Line folders from Eyal, and was "questioning the authenticity".

Pieces start to fall into place:

  1. I look at Eyal's On-Line folder auctions again. Everything is in great shape. Really great shape. Like, pristine. I can see no wear at all on the folders, not the tiniest hint of scuffing on the disk labels. For 20-year-old games that were not still shrinkwrapped, and which had travelled a third of the way around the world. And they still look absolutely new.


  2. Eyal's a collector, or so I thought. Why would a collector sell off such flawless pieces, especially if he lives in a part of the world where it's almost impossible to find them? If he's genuinely interested in these items, why wouldn't he keep such fine specimens for himself?


  3. And hey, wait a minute, the On-Line disk sleeve in that auction looks... wrong. Every single one I have, and every one I have ever seen elsewhere has appeared "fibery" (for lack of a better term): You can see different shades of color in the paper fibers in the envelope when you hold it up to the light. Eyal's sleeve looks smooth, uniform in color, and a bit "stiffer".


  4. Eyal recently e-mailed me (and Collector "B" as well, it seems) with a request for a bunch of large, detailed scans for "future generation [sic]", because I "have some rare games". His needs for a couple of them are "urgent". He claims to be starting a Sierra museum website, and needs the scans because he himself does "not collect games nor i [sic] have the money to buy those games"... despite the fact that he is currently selling them! Yes, some of the games Eyal wanted me to scan for him are the same titles he's been selling under the David Wolf alias. Heck, one of them is a Mystery House that I offerred to buy from "David Wolf"! WHY on Earth would he need scans of items he already has? (To create better fakes, perhaps?) If he's selling them but can't afford to buy them, where exactly are they coming from?


  5. Eyal magically finds Sierra Ultima I an average of 2-3 times per year?! (Wow, look at this, a mint Sierra Ultima I box, just sitting right here in this printing press!) Ditto Mystery House and Cranston Manor, these are rare items. You don't find them in this quantity anywhere, let alone in a country where they were never originally sold in stores.


  6. And of course "David Wolf" is a perfect alias for a Sierra fan. As in David Wolf: Secret Agent.

Collector "A" expands the loop to include Collector "C" (who also just bought some On-Line folders from Eyal), and we confront him about the David Wolf alias. Up until now he's been pretending to be two different people, but he finally admits he was using an alias because collectors recognized Eyal Katz as a "Sierra expert" and he wanted to pretend to be an unknown. He won't admit to shilling, though, claiming that his eBay accounts were closed because of "credit card issues". (Well, he was kicked off because one account was bidding on an auction sold by someone with the same credit card information, so I suppose technically that's true.) And he adamantly insists his Sierras are genuine.

The more we dig, the more dirt we end up with. A bunch of scans are made, side-by-side comparisons of known originals and the stuff Eyal's selling, and uploaded to the web so we can all see the differences. (If you want to look for yourself and are on a 56K dialup, be prepared to wait; they're large files.) Over the next 12 hours, as I swap a constant stream of e-mails with "A", "B", "C", and Eyal himself, the incriminating evidence continues to pile up:

  • The folders obtained from Eyal are slightly blurry when compared with originals. The print quality isn't as good, and the coloring is slightly off. The text inside also appears poorly printed.


  • "B"'s gold-label disk from Eyal has no indentations on the lettering. On his known originals, and on every one I have, the letters are sunken into the label slightly, as if printed with a typewriter.


  • "B" notices that his supposed Atari disk label from Eyal has no "Adapted for the Atari by Chris Iden" printed on it. That is, it appears to be the type of label On-Line would have put on an Apple II disk.


  • When the buyers pop in their disks, that clinches it. The disks in the packages Eyal sold are PC formatted, not Apple II. (Commercial versions of these games do not exist for PC, other than through emulation in The Roberta Williams Anthology.) The datestamps on the files are 1992-93, eleven years after the games were originally released. The files themselves are junk, and one disk even contained the "Stoned" virus! In short, these are not game disks at all, they are old 5-1/4 disks that Eyal pulled from somewhere and slapped a fake label on.

So. Caught lying about what he's sold to whom. Caught lying about his multiple identities. Banned from eBay for shill-bidding. Three collectors independently concerned about the authenticity of his games. He "finds" lots of rare items on a regular basis, but "doesn't collect" and "can't afford" them. And he wants high-quality, detailed scans. I'm not terribly good at math, but I can handle 2 + 2.

All this time, Eyal's getting mad at the collectors who are demanding refunds, and trying to get me off his back because I didn't actually buy anything from him so it's "not your concern". Or in other words, he doesn't want to deal with me anymore, so instead of offerring a convincing explanation he tells me to get lost. This reaction tells me I'm on the right track.

His story continues to evolve as he throws up an ever-larger pile of lies to hide behind. He does eventually admit to bidding on his own auction, but insists that it was only to raise the starting bid from $9.99 to an even $10. ANOTHER lie, it never ends with this joker! Take a look at the items' bid histories: He bid on all three of his auctions on 10/25, and upped two of them again on 10/28.

Now, Eyal has claimed before to have distributed Sierra games in Israel. He's provided a few details about recent titles, and even insists he was doing it back in the early 1980s when the On-Line games were first released! Now, I don't know whether the Apple and Atari 8-bit computers ever even made it to Israel back then, but needless to say, with all the other bull he's been feeding me, I just can't swallow it. Still, if he were doing it legit in the late 90s, it'd go a long way toward explaining how he could have the resources needed to print his own On-Line folders. At any rate, he's no longer cooperating with the Bad Cop, so maybe it's time for me to play the Good Cop.

I reply to his latest, thanking him for his answers so far, saying I'm truly sorry if I've misjudged him, I'll see about taking the warning down from the Shoppe, and just wanting to clarify a couple more things. About the packages, whether the Sierra address is the U.S. one, or his company in Israel. How he went about contacting Sierra and getting the rights to distribute them. About his age. He's said before that he's "old", and I calculate by the timeline that means at least 45, which Eyal replies is "close".

A posting to Al Lowe's guestbook (do a text search on "Eyal Katz"), found by Collector "C", springs the trap. Here he writes that he's 28, and his GameTZ profile reflects this as well (or at least it did before the little sneak changed it two days after this column was originally posted). He also states that he played his first Sierra game in 1986, long past the Hi-Res series, and that he did Sierra distribution when he became an adult, which would have been the late 1990s. Based on all the lies he's told when dealing directly with us, I actually believe what he wrote to Lowe as a fan-boy.

If he really had distributed for Sierra in the early 1980s, he would've been the youngest guy in the business, about 7 by my math. He claims to have also done it in the early 1990s, or maybe the late 1990s, or maybe that's when he got out of the business. Since he uses somewhat broken English, without caps and sometimes without punctuation, it's hard to tell for certain. But his timeline is all over the place, and he's waffling, badly. No valid explanation for where all these rare, mint items came from. No completely satisfied collectors who could vouch for him. No sample pages from the Sierra museum he's supposedly building. No arguments, no confessions, NOTHING. Except a long trail of exposed lies. Finally he writes that he's tired of my "sick game" and won't be e-mailing me anymore. That's okay, I think by this point I've figured it out.

My final reply to him is a Sherlock Holmes-esque rundown of exactly what I believe:

To: "Eyal Katz" (rolandmt32@bezeqint.net)
Subject: Last Message from Me, Too

Okay, here's what I think, based on what I've put together from my conversations with you, and what I've been able to find on the web. I'm working under the assumption that your posting to Al Lowe's site is the truth, since you have far less reason to lie to him than to us. Ready? Here goes...

You are 28 years old. You completely missed the On-Line Systems era in the early 1980s, but played your first Sierra game in 1986. Over the next few years you played more, from the various Quest series, and liked them a lot, and when you reached adulthood you decided a good way to combine work with your love of Sierra would be to distribute Sierra games in Israel. Considering your age, this would have been around the late 1990s. By that time all of the computers for which the Hi-Res series had been made -- Apple, Atari 8-bit, Commodore 64 -- were obsolete, so your distribution involved modern Sierra titles: King's Quest VIII, Gabriel Knight 3, etc.

At some point while doing this you realized the earliest Sierra games were fetching great prices among collectors, and saw this as an opportunity to cash in. You contacted a few collectors to obtain high-quality, 600dpi scans of items, just a few at first: Wizard and the Princess, Mystery House, Cranston Manor. Later you would contact people asking for more scans, under the guise of building a Sierra museum (or maybe that was real, but merely a side project of your true agenda). Using the same equipment used for the legitimate printing of modern Sierra packages, you created some reasonably good fake folders, reproduction sleeves for the disks, and gold disk labels which you stuck on some old 5-1/4" disks you picked up from somewhere, and passed them off as genuine originals, preserved all these years.

Knowing this was dishonest, you created a second identity under the name David Wolf (as in David Wolf: Secret Agent), and used it to actually sell the games, so no one would connect this to Eyal Katz. You provided a false mailing address along with your own P.O. box (rather than street) number. But since PayPal and eBay use credit cards and bank account numbers for verification, you had to provide Eyal Katz's information with the secondary accounts you built for those. You were careful, though, to always pretend to be "David" or "Eyal" as appropriate, two different people not knowing anything about the other.

But for whatever reason -- David Wolf was a zero-feedback seller, high shipping costs from Israel -- your auctions didn't get a ton of bids in the first few days, and you were in danger of not getting enough money for all your trouble. So, using the Eyal Katz ID, you bid against the David Wolf auctions to drive the price up and hopefully stimulate interest. And it seems to have worked.

The only problem is, your fakes weren't good enough. You were working off scans, never having held an original in your own hands. The cover quality ended up being a bit blurry, you didn't realize the lettering on the gold disk labels was supposed to be indented, and you couldn't reproduce the "fibery" material of the original On-Line disk envelopes. Further, you mistakenly thought the "DOS 3.2 and 3.3" notation on the folders indicated MS-DOS, rather than Apple DOS. And you didn't have a 5-1/4" drive to rewrite the disks themselves, so you just used a bunch of old PC-formatted disks and hoped no one would notice. (Disks go bad after all, and these games were 20 years old.)

After receiving their packages and developing their own suspicions, a number of collectors confronted you about this, and not long after brought me on board. At that point you realized you'd been found out, but tried to avoid it with a string of lies: Lying about the connection between Eyal Katz and David Wolf. Lying about shilling on eBay. Lying about your age. Lying about how long you'd been doing distribution for Sierra. We unraveled the web, one lie at a time, until you were left with nothing more to hide behind, at which point rather than come clean, you simply refused to respond anymore.

So. How'd I do?

No reply, and he's been silent ever since.

As a legitimate collector, I am sickened, thoroughly repulsed, by this guy's behavior. Sad to say, if any of you have bought Sierra games from Eyal Katz (or "David Wolf", or sometimes he goes by "avi") in the past, chances are you're stuck with fakes. He's hopping mad right now, knowing his little scam has been blown apart, so don't expect him to be very cooperative with refunds. But there are still a few things you should do:

What to look for in a genuine On-Line Systems folder:

  • The quality of the image on the folder and the printing inside should be very high, not at all blocky, grainy, or blurry.


  • The inside of the folders should be a slightly off-white, not pure white. (It may also be darkened a bit from age.)


  • The disk envelope should be easily flexible, not stiff (if you wave it back and forth without the disk inside it should flap a bit) and its surface should appear "fibery", with paper fibers visible when you hold it up to the light, not uniform in color.

    Dare to Compare: The envelope
    on the left is the fake. (Click the
    image to enlarge.)

  • The Atari 8-bit disk label should contain a credit for the programmer who did the platform conversion.


  • My original Apple II disks are all notched, but my Atari versions are not. Can someone else confirm this from their collection?


  • And unless they were opened from the shrink and immediately sold, there should be at least a little wear on the folder's spine, and a few light scratches on the disk label, considering how old these are.


  • And yes, these were originally sold shrinkwrapped. (Otherwise the disks and cards would've kept falling out of the folder in stores. This is not just a theory, I have a couple of shrinkwraps myself.)

Hmm, I realize by sharing all this I've just given counterfeiters the info needed to make better fakes. It's a double-edged sword, but I figure it's better that everyone know, and be watchful for this sort of thing.

What all collectors should learn from this:

  • Look closely at scans of items up for auction. Compare this with other sites such as Adventureland, the Computer Game Museum, The Infocom Gallery, MobyGames, Vintage Sierra, and the YOIS Vault. If the auction scans are of poor quality, ask for better ones. If the covers or game materials look suspiciously different, ask the buyer to explain. (Try not to be overly paranoid, though: Legitimate package variations exist.) Confirm that the buyer actually made the scan on the page, and didn't just pull it from another auction or site.


  • If somebody you've never heard of before suddenly comes up with a bunch of rare, mint items, ask where they got them from. If their answers are vague, ask for more detail. If they can't or won't offer a good explanation, proceed with caution.


  • If you have any suspicions at all, make sure you understand your seller's return policy in advance, so you can get a refund for anything you're not satisfied with.


  • Check your disks! I know, I'm guilty of this one too, as I tend to hoard games more than I play them, but it'll help discourage thieves from putting fake labels on generic 5-1/4" disks. Unreadable disks don't necessarily indicate a fake. Disks formatted for an entirely different platform and containing garbage files and/or viruses most certainly do.


  • If you're convinced you've been scammed, report it! Talk with other collectors, and use the links above. The easiest way for criminals to get away is for their victims to let them.


  • Finally, do NOT under any circumstances deal with Eyal Katz / "David Wolf" / "avi". Do not buy from him, do not sell to him, do not trade with him, do not make SCANS of your packages for him. He'll only use the originals to make fakes that are harder to distinguish.


  • For that matter, watch anyone with an e-mail ending in bezeqint.net. (No, I'm not saying anyone selling Sierra in Israel is a crook, but it fits Eyal's profile.) Initiate a PayPal payment to that address but don't actually send it: I believe PayPal prints the user's verified identity on the confirmation screen. Or do a seller search on eBay (you can type an e-mail address in when it asks for the user ID), and see if the auctions listed are in any way fishy. Be especially wary of Softporn, as I did send Eyal a front cover scan to verify it was the level of detail he was after, before I realized what he was up to.

And, what con artists should learn from this:

  • If you try to scam collectors, you WILL get caught. Maybe not immediately, maybe you'll make a few hundred dollars first. But you WILL be discovered. We collectors may get overly excited and eager to make purchases, but we are NOT stupid. We do actually LOOK at our items, we share information with each other, and many of us are OBSESSIVE about even the smallest package differences. We know this stuff far better than you could ever hope to, so don't even ATTEMPT to fuck with us. This is my absolute favorite pastime, and I take threats against it VERY personally.



Game Counterfeiting 101 - Report Card


Student: Eyal Katz (aka "David Wolf" aka "avi")

Forgery: B
At auction, Eyal's items passed for originals without raising
an eyebrow, but they don't hold up nearly as well under in-hand
scrutiny. His knowledge of the details of game collectibles
needs some work, as do his disk-rewriting skills. Consider
actually purchasing an original copy to work from.
Misidentity: D-
The dual identities Eyal built might have been successful had
he not been caught shill bidding by eBay. He needs to realize
that false identities only work when they never interact with
each other. Emphasize less obvious pseudonyms ("David Wolf"?
Come on!), and different writing, punctuation, and spelling
styles. (And on that last note, the word is spelled "please",
with an "E" on the end, you nimrod.)
Deception: F
Eyal really needs to work on getting his story straight before
people start asking him questions. His explanations are not
convincing: Too many inconsistencies and too many transparent
lies. Frankly, people found my April Fool's Shoppe column
more believable.
Greed: B+
Eyal's disregard for others and desire to earn a profit any
way he can make him a promising sleaze-weasel, but at times
his drive causes him to act in haste. He must learn to pace
himself, selling rare items in smaller quantities, far enough
apart so as not to draw suspicion.
Overall Course Grade: C-
Unfortunately I believe this level of con-artistry currently
exceeds Eyal's capacities. Perhaps other forms of petty crime,
such as purse-snatching, swiping tips off restaurant tables,
and peeking over the shoulders of ATM users as they enter their
passcodes, would be better suited to his talents.
Please have parent/guardian sign and return within two weeks:




Signature __________________________________________________

(P.S. Thanks to Collector "D" for the newspaper GIFs. B-)


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