CONMEN are trying to trick gullible meteorite hunters into paying a fortune for fake fragments of the space rock that caused devastation in Russia last week.
Scottish meteorite expert Rob Elliott revealed he had been approached by Russian crooks who asked him to value pieces of meteorite recovered from Chelyabinsk.
Rob said it was immediately obvious most of the rocks were not even meteorites, let alone remnants of the explosion which injured 1,000 residents of the Urals town.
Tiny remnants of the meteor that streaked through the earth’s atmosphere on Friday have reportedly been put up for sale on Russian websites with a price tag of £6,500.
But Rob, from Fife, warned of a flood of bogus fragments on internet auction sites and said unwary buyers could be easily conned.
The 52-year-old has travelled as far afield as Hawaii to buy meteorites and has a huge collection at his home near Milton of Balgonie.
He said: “Within hours of this thing falling from the sky I was being bombarded with emails trying to get me to buy fragments of meteorite.
“There was a guy from Russia who emailed me and said he and his friend had a bit of the meteorite that fell and wanted me to value it so they could sell it on.
“You can tell straight away they were just rocks. They didn’t have that black fusion surface and they were smooth like a rock on the beach that has had its rough edges smoothed by hundreds of years of being eroded by the sea.
“I didn’t even bother replying to them because I’m not going to try and help them pull the wool over people’s eyes.”
Rob said an eBay user, in America, claimed to be selling a genuine fragment.
He added: “Within a few hours of the meteor landing this guy had listed fragments.
“It does look like an actual meteorite for sale as it’s got rust which you’d expect because of the iron content.
“But it’s not from the Russian one – rust takes years to form. It looks like he’s a hold of this for while and with the interest over Chelyabinsk thought ‘Here’s a chance to make a buck’.
“The sad thing is the last time I checked more than 70 people had bid on this rock and it was sitting at about $1200”.
He also found auctions of people simply selling bags of soil that were in the nearby area where the meteor landed.
He added: “Then there was another site in Russia where the man had just bagged some soil and said it was in the meteor’s flight-path.”
Mr Elliott is well known for detecting meteorite fragments with nothing other than a magnet on the end of a golf club.
Meteorites contain iron which sticks to magnets – allowing Rob to tell the difference between space rock and a regular stone.
Despite the size of the Russian incident, Rob, who once worked on the UK’s Trident submarine fleet, has decided not to go hunting for meteorites in Chelyabinsk.
He added: “The Russian authorities are well known for being very thorough with regards to visas and given my military background I figured it would cause further dealys.
“As such I’m just going to keep an eye on the market and wait for the genuine articles to come up.”