In particular, Russian gangs are exploiting a boom in paintings from their homeland. The surge in forgeries has led Scotland Yard to mount its first exhibition, aimed at raising awareness of the crimes among dealers and collectors.
A Met spokesman said: “We hope to encourage people to report crimes and work with the police to address what is a serious crime, with links to organised criminal networks increasingly looking at ways to finance and further their endeavours. Art and fakes is one of the ways.”
The police exhibits range from forged antiquities to fine art, including copies of paintings by Pablo Picasso and LS Lowry.
If genuine, the work on display at the V&A in South Kensington this week would be worth about ?10million.
Among the exhibits are paintings by Robert Thwaites, whose work deceived some of the country’s top experts.
He duped Rupert Maas, the respected gallery owner and Antiques Roadshow art specialist, into parting with ?20,000 for a painting he claimed was by John Anster Fitzgerald, a little-known Victorian. The forgery, entitled The Miser, was so convincing it was sold on at a 300 per cent mark-up.
Thwaites also tricked gallery proprietor Dr Christopher Beetles out of more than ?100,000 with another “Fitzgerald”, called Going To The Masked Ball.
It was only when the forger attempted to sell a third painting entitled Poppy With Imps And Fairies And Foliage with his brother Brian, 50, that a would-be client, Peter Nahum of The Leicester Galleries in St James’s, became suspicious and the pair were arrested.
Thwaites was jailed for two years at Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court last month. His brother admitted conspiracy to obtain money by deception and was given a 12-month suspended sentence.
Dick Ellis, a former head of the Met’s arts and antiques squad, said: “When you get a sudden increase in the value of an object then it attracts fakes. People capitalise on it.”
Mr Ellis, of Art Management Group, said forgers were now also involved in coins, medals, automobilia and pottery. “Some are very good, he said. ”Only through scientific examination can you weed out many of the forgeries.“