St. Louis wine collector Paul Higgins admits to "American Greed" that he didn't really check out Fox's Premier Cru until it was too late — after multiple cases of wine failed to show up. Then, he began looking up the online comments.
"And I saw these universally horrible reviews about Premier Cru saying, 'Stay away! Stay away!'" he recalled.
He did find one glowingly positive review of Fox's business on Yelp, cleverly signed "John F."
There was a time when buying wine futures or pre-arrivals was a way to make money. Like trading in soybean or pork belly futures, you could lock in a low price now, then own a valuable commodity once it is ready for delivery. And wineries were happy to sell their product ahead of time as a hedge against unexpected price declines. But those days are largely over.
"Most people would be better off putting their money in low interest bearing accounts, waiting until the wine arrives," Downey said.
That is because wine prices have gone up considerably in recent years thanks to increasing demand from places like China, and the growth of wine auctions in the U.S. For buyers, that means there is simply less opportunity to find a low price to lock in. Vineyards in Europe, meanwhile, grew tired of seeing their product "flipped" on the secondary market for many times the original price, and began offering less wine for sale ahead of time.
Nowadays, the main benefit of buying wine ahead of time is peace of mind.
"Number one, make sure you're getting the wines that you want, because most of these wines are highly allocated and very difficult to get, and number two, it's provenance, and provenance is just as important as authenticity in the fine wine world," Downey said. In other words, by purchasing directly from the estate, you can make sure the wine you are buying is the real thing.
Even in the futures and pre-arrival markets, the risk of counterfeits is ever-present and growing. Downey says once your wine arrives, be sure to check for some telltale signs.
"Some of the red flags would be, when you receive the wine, if they have importation stickers that are different from the vendor from whom you purchased the wine, or from the place that the vendor told you they were getting the wine in the first place. If the wines appear to have any conditions that look like they might have circulated in the market at all," she said.
Another warning sign is a delivery that does not show up on time. That was a common complaint among Fox's customers, but it still was not enough to trip up his scheme. Instead, Fox would meet his match in a mystery woman who played on his biggest weakness. Today, Fox, 67, is aging in California, at the minimum-security federal prison in Lompoc.
See how the truth was finally spilled about John Fox's vintage Ponzi scheme on an all new episode of "American Greed", Monday, Aug. 7, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CNBC.