COLUMBIA, Mo. - A man claiming to be an arts and antiquities dealer is targeting Mid-Missourians and he's doing so by using a local museum as his front.
Jonathan Nathan Williams is not only asking residents for money, but also for their valuable art. ABC 17 News has learned he's possibly doing the same thing in four other states.
Williams' website, artsvintage.com, looks legit and to most other Mid-Missourians. He has a phone number, addresses and plenty of information available.
However, the executive director and curator of the Boone County Museum and Galleries said she has started investigating Williams after getting calls from residents claiming someone tried to scam them using the museum's name.
It didn't take long for Jenifer Flink to find the first clue she needed to know they were right -- Williams was using the museum's address on his site.
"Museums work so hard to safeguard their reputation and integrity in a community," said Flink.
But someone threatening that hard work caught the attention of the Boone County Museum and Galleries.
"He claims to be an art and antiquities dealer who operates out of the historical society," said Flink.
Flink was alarmed when she got the first call about someone asking for donations on behalf of the Boone County Historical Society.
"We are not conducting a fundraising campaign that would in anyway involve taking items from anyone's home," Flink said.
After a little investigation, Flink immediately alerted the Columbia Police Department, the Better Business Bureau and the Attorney General's office.
In the meantime, Williams was apparently still trying to scam Mid-Missourians.
"After I received the third phone call, I realized I wanted to look into what was happening here and what he was saying on his website a little more thoroughly," said Flink.
Digging into Williams' website more, she found a Salt Lake City address that turned out to be the Natural History Museum of Utah.
"I called them," said Flink. "So not only was he not affiliated in anyway, they were just as horrified as I was."
The same scenario played out for all of the museums listed on Williams' website. He claimed he consulted with the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, the C.M. Russel Museum in Great Falls, Mont., and the Clarke Historical Museum in Eureka, Calif. All of those turned out to be lies.
"What this man is doing is calling people and inserting himself into their confidence by falsely lining themselves with an agency in the community such as ours," Flink explained.
ABC 17 News tried tracking down Williams using the number listed on his website. No one would answer the phone call and the line would go dead.
When we tried to verify the number on his website, it was gone.
Since our first contact with the Boone County Historical Society, artsvintage.com went from a professional-looking site to a deactivated site.
"The worst case scenario is he's seeking to buy things from them or have them donate into the collection in the museum and that he's taking someone's treasured family item for himself and just selling it for the money," said Flink.
Flink says although subtle, Williams' website and phone calls raised ref flags. She also noted Williams only used PayPal as a payment option.
Flink pointed out Williams contradicts himself and she doesn't believe it would take someone in the art world to figure it out.
"If you look at all the museums he references, none of them focus on antiquities," said Flink.
Flink says the Boone County Historical Museum focuses solely on Missouri history through the eyes of artists in Boone County.
And as for the phone calls, she said staff would never cold call the community asking for money or antiquities. She added that legitimate society campaign would be well-advertised.
When dealing with the arts, Flink says she understands how easy it can be for someone to pretend to be from a trusted agency, so in order to figure out the legit from the fake, ask the caller how you can get back in touch with them and verify the caller's claims.
The Missouri Attorney General's office told ABC 17 News that they are investigating Jonathan Williams and currently have one complaint against him.
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