Taking advantage or a downright swindle?

A musical gypsy bought a historic violin from an old lady at the market in Den Bosch for peanuts. It had belonged to her recently deceased husband. He paid fifty euros for a violin that was worth seventy-five to a hundred thousand euros!

When interviewed by the newspapers, he said he had realised immediately that this was a chance in a million. He would have been happy to pay a few thousand euros for it! Is this just his good fortune and her bad luck, as he claimed, or did he take unfair advantage of an old lady’s ignorance? Is there anything she can do about this?

The legislation offers an elegant solution. If the violinist knew that the widow was unaware of the value of the violin and that this was the reason she sold it to him so cheaply, then this is a case of mistake. As he didn’t say anything, the lady can void the agreement and require the return of the violin under Article 228 of Book 6 of the Dutch Civil Code. The violinist would have been better advised to tell the lady about the violin’s value. If he had been open about the situation, it would have been a fair deal.

Does this mean he has lost all his rights? If the lady applies to court claiming mistake, he could still offer to pay a fair price at that stage. It’s quite possible he would get to keep the violin. After all, she wouldn’t be at a disadvantage any longer.

So always make sure you know what you’re selling and what you’re buying. If you are offered something for a ridiculously low price, ask questions. Is it stolen? Does the seller actually know what he’s selling? If someone is offering a new car for a bargain price on the internet, be suspicious.

The basic principle is that if you think you’re going to get rich because of someone else’s stupidity, make sure you’re not being duped and check that the other person knows what they’re doing. The difference between taking someone else for a ride and getting taken for a ride yourself can be surprisingly small!