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FBI Internet Alert: Be Wary of Autographed Collectibles

by Sandra Lee Stuart (07/08/08).

Autographed collectibles are a staple in most sports memorabilia collections. They are valuable, and they hold personal meaning for the collector. However, there is a dark underbelly to the world of autographed collectibles, and the FBI wants you to be aware of it. According to the bureau, 70% of all autographed sports memorabilia sold over the Internet are fake.

Con artists have taken advantage of the burgeoning market of online shoppers. They use the impersonal aspect of Internet shopping to fool uneducated buyers into believing they are purchasing authentic autographed memorabilia. Some sellers take their con even further by forging certificates of authentication. This certificate creates the illusion the autograph has undergone extensive authentication measures, but the opposite is true.

The sports memorabilia market is estimated to generate more than a billion dollars each year. Seeing how much people love to purchase autographs presented an opportunity for forgers to take advantage of unsuspecting customers. The ability to hide behind a computer screen has made passing off a forgery even easier. The result: The market is now flooded with fake autographs.

Another problem is many authentication companies have been proven to be less than trustworthy on multiple occasions. One recent news report showed a female reporter forging an autograph of a baseball player at a card show. She took it over to the authentication booth where a so-called expert gave it his seal of approval in fewer than five seconds. Rest assured, this isn’t an isolated incident.

I believe there are some authenticators out there looking to build up their database of verified autographed collectibles. They loosen their standards to reach their goal. Furthermore, they spend little time authenticating signatures of players who aren’t superstars because there isn’t as much money in those autographs. This opens the doors for a forger to come in and acquire authentication from a somewhat reputable authentication firm because it wasn’t willing to go the extra mile to ensure the signature really was valid.

So where does this leave us, the buyers? The best way to ensure an autograph is real is to acquire it yourself. Go to card shows, arrive at games early or send a ball in the mail to make sure the player is signing the piece. Other than that, it really is all about trust. Do you trust the person selling you the autographed collectible? If it’s from a local card shop with which you have a long-term relationship, you might be able to place your trust in the seller. If it’s from someone across the country on eBay, it might be best to resist clicking the Buy Now button.

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