Home Money Elderly dad who was duped out of £25k debt by scam company Marks Art – and TONY HETHERINGTON finds the culprit in Cyprus

Elderly dad who was duped out of £25k debt by scam company Marks Art – and TONY HETHERINGTON finds the culprit in Cyprus

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Spotted: Tony tracked Mark Steven Smith to a town called Incesu in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Tony Hetherington is the Financial Mail on Sunday’s star investigator, battling readers’ corners, revealing the truth behind closed doors and winning victories for those left penniless. Find out how to contact him below.

Mrs. FM writes: My dad, aged in his 80s, has artwork apparently worth around £78,000, bought at Marks Art.

Last year he was tricked into paying more than £25,000 in fees related to a promised sale.

They told him to pay VAT, then insurance costs, then bank charges and finally they told him the deal fell through.

Tony Hetherington replies: Marks Art was a scam when I first warned about it last September. And it is still a scam today. His website boasts: “Since early 2017, we have been pioneers in innovation, setting a gold standard for artists, investors and galleries alike.” Not bad for an investment business whose accounts show it was dormant until 2020.

Spotted: Tony tracked Mark Steven Smith to a town called Incesu in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

But the lies told to victims are worse. Marks Art published false newspaper reports (said to come from the BBC and the Daily Telegraph) praising an artist nicknamed ‘Mrs. Banksy’, and her father, Mr W, invested £15,520.

Mark Steven Smith, owner of the fraudulent company, protested that someone else had given him the fakes. I told him clearly that this did not entitle him to benefit from the fraud and he returned his father’s £15,520 to me.

However, this was only a small part of your father’s losses. He paid £7,500 to Art Store and Insure Limited for his paintings to be safe. However, this company told Companies House that it was not trading. I wonder if he told the taxman the same thing. The company was forcibly closed last year. Who was the owner? Surprise, surprise: it was Mark Steven Smith.

Under pressure from Marks Art, your father ended up deep in debt. He appealed to the banks and card issuers he used to pay Marks Art. They were Lloyds Bank and M&S Bank, so I contacted them and offered evidence that the art company is misleading its investors.

This cannot have been an easy investigation for either bank. They had to decide if her father had been deceived in each purchase. But the refunds began to arrive. Lloyds had already decided to refund more than £13,000, she said, and then went further and refunded almost £3,000 for two art purchases made in 2018.

M&S Bank told me it investigated 18 transactions. Four recent offers were refunded under chargeback rules. The remainder have since been investigated under the Section 75 consumer protection rule and his father has received a full refund except for one purchase which unfortunately exceeded the £30,000 permitted by Section 75.

Lloyds discovered that some payments went to other companies linked to Smith. Although chargeback rules did not apply, the bank generously returned a further £27,500 as a gesture of goodwill. He told me: “Keeping our customers safe from fraud is our priority and we have great sympathy for Mr W as a scam victim.”

You told me, ‘I honestly can’t thank you enough for everything you’re doing. Dad turned 89 this week and gave himself a new hearing aid. He has been able to pay off all of his debts and has some left to keep in the bank. It’s hard to put into words what a difference this has made to him.’

One last point. When I first raised the alarm, I reported that Marks Art was hiring a telephone sales team, offering profits totaling £120,000. The jobs were in northern Cyprus and Smith explained: “The warmer climate and lower expenses make it more attractive than the prices and climate of London.”

However, I can now reveal the real reason Smith chose the location.


Wanted: Mark Steven Smith

Wanted: Mark Steven Smith

Mark Steven Smith is a wanted man. Not for the artistic fraud that he carries out, but for fleeing a court hearing that sentenced him to four years in prison. I traced it to a town called Incesu in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

In March 2017, he was driving his Range Rover on the M25 in Surrey when he was involved in a minor collision with a Renault Clio. Minutes later, the Range Rover stopped at a traffic light on a service road. A female passenger got out of a Mercedes that was also at the traffic light, and reports say there was an argument about the earlier collision.

The Range Rover then ran over the woman and drove away. She was taken to the hospital with multiple broken ribs, a fractured shoulder and a leg injury. Police later arrested Mark Steven Smith for offenses including driving while disqualified, driving without insurance and failing to stop after an accident.

In June 2018, Smith was convicted at Kingston Crown Court of causing serious injury by dangerous driving. He did not appear at the sentencing and was given a four-year prison sentence in absentia. Victims of his art scam say they have been contacted by London police who are investigating Marks Art.

And Surrey Police want him so he can start four years behind bars. Smith himself told me: ‘Tony, this wasn’t me. I had nothing to do with this. Myself and my team have investigated it. It seems there is another Mark Smith with this crime.

Well, here’s a photo in police custody of Mark Steven Smith, the dangerous driver. He is from the same area as Mark Steven Smith, the art scammer. And they share the same date of birth. What are the odds?

The United Kingdom does not have an extradition treaty with northern Cyprus, although the country’s authorities could deport Smith. Or he could take a plane and return to England. I will meet you at the airport and I am sure Surrey Police will be happy to assist. If the police have got the wrong man, I’ll write the headline myself: Framed Art Fraud. What do you think, Marcos?

If you believe you are a victim of financial irregularity, please write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 9 Derry Street, London W8 5HY or email tony.hetherington@mailonsunday.co.uk. Due to the large volume of inquiries, it is not possible to provide personal responses. Please only send copies of the original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.

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