An ancient relief lies shattered in the Northwest Palace at the nearly 3,000-year-old site of Nimrud, Iraq. Photo via AP Images.

If you are an amateur collector of antiquities and suddenly seeing a lot of great deals online, you might want to pump the breaks, lest you find yourself items looted from conflict zones.

At the Wall Street Journal, Georgi Kantchev delves into a tricky and growing problem for law enforcement and online marketplaces such as Ebay, Whatsapp, Amazon, and Facebook:

Criminals have for years sold illegal goods online. But the growth of social networks and e-commerce platforms, coupled with the recent industrial-scale looting by Islamic State across the Middle East, has brought a stream of stolen antiquities online, often being offered to unsuspecting buyers, according to U.S. and European security officials, antiquities experts and documents seen by The Wall Street Journal.

Law-enforcement officials say the online outlets have become a vexing challenge as they battle a wave of looting that is stripping heritage sites of ancient artifacts. Revenue from the sales is often used to finance various types of terrorist and criminal groups that also use the trade to launder other illicit income including drug and weapons trafficking, U.S. and European government officials say.

Selling stolen stuff is prohibited on these platforms, of course, but enforcementā€”as always in this sort of internet venueā€”is easier said than done. And while the thought of your money going to ISIS is obviously very alarming, even when the situation isnā€™t so extreme, thereā€™s still the risk of sketchiness that gives looters around the world an easy way to move their ill-gotten goods:

ā€œInternet sales platforms upgrade the difficulty of the investigations,ā€ said Alberto Rodao MartĆ­n, an officer at the criminal intelligence unit of Spainā€™s Civil Guard police agency. ā€œNow looters in Spain send packages of ancient coins directly to collectors in the U.S. Weā€™re overwhelmed.ā€

ā€œNot long ago, our job involved watching looters with sniper binoculars in the bushes,ā€ added MartĆ­n. ā€œNow weā€™re looking at online ads.ā€ And thatā€™s without even getting into the issue of forgeries.


Online platforms are for beautifully bonkers Christmas sweatshirts from the 1980s, vintage magazines, and hilarious mugs. Anything more valuable, maybe think about it for a minute.