ESPN and 20/20 recently reported that 80% of all autographs sold in the United States are forgeries! On 20/20s report, they actually purchased a Tony Gwynn forgery from the Padre's Stadium Gift Shop!
When spending your hard earned money, you can't be too careful! From knowing what you are buying to who you are buying from, here are a few steps you can take to protect yourself.
Make sure you are purchasing from a reputable dealer. Anyone can start a web site, and say whatever they wish about their honesty and reliability, but why should you believe them? Recently there was a seller who started an anonymous Authentication site, then posted a link to it from his sales pages. You were led to believe you were getting an unbiased opinion, but in fact the seller was authenticating his own forgeries! To help assure that your dealer is legitimate, look for the Square Deal, Better Business Bureau or Reliable Merchants seal.
eBay Dealer History
If purchasing on eBay, check their feedback, but remember feedback should only be used to judge service, not authenticity. It does you no good if they ship your forgery out quickly! Also remember, eBay sellers are rewarded the Powerseller's seal for sales volume, NOT trustworthiness! Next, go to the 'eBay Seller Search' to check their active and completed auctions for fishy items, and ask yourself questions. "If he is a small time dealer, how did he get 10 Michael Jordan autographed balls to sell?" and, "If real Jordan basketballs sell for $600, why does he keep selling his for $100?" or "If John Elway has an exclusive contract with Mounted Memories, where did he get all these Elway autographs?"
Certificate of Authenticity (COA)
Never buy an autograph without documentation. You must still be very careful when purchasing autographs, even with a Certificate of Authenticity (COA). Some are easily forged and anyone can print up a COA on their computer, so be sure the COA is from a reputable company. Upper Deck Authenticated (UDA), Mounted Memories, Tri-Star, Super Star Greetings, All Star Lineup, Steiner Sports and MRAK Sports are all reputable companies who stand by their autographs. Do not buy anything from 'Joe Blow Sports', if you haven't heard of them ask around. Two 'reputable dealers' and eBay Powersellers called Smokey's and Stan's Sports were busted by the FBI several years ago for mail fraud because they were selling forgeries through the mail.
The 'photo signing' scam does nothing to prove your autograph is real, it just proves that the star in question signed ONE item, possibly the sample that many copies were made from. Or, the photo could easily have been stolen from one posted on the Internet by a legitimate seller. Mrak Sports offers Signing Photos with many of it's products, but they are for the buyers enjoyment only and are not intended to be used as authenticity. The COA and Holograms from our nationally known authenticators are all the proof required.
Forensic or Third Party Authentication
Don't rely on so-called 'forensic specialists,' there is one that comes to mind, Dr. Donald Frangipani, who's document's were forged and any autographs authenticated by him are now banned from eBay! Even after a qualified forensic examination, you can only be sure it's either real, or a very good forgery. The same holds true for 'third party' authenticators like PSA/DNA.
Most of your top companies are now using holograms to help authenticate their autographs. This doesn't mean it's a fake if it doesn't have one, just like it doesn't mean it's real just because it does, it just means the odds are better. I have seen some very questionable items from smaller companies that have their own holograms, so beware! The Hologram merely ensures the item is from the company in question, the company's reputation should still be weighed.
If you are purchasing an autograph from a bigger star, find out if they have a signing contract and with whom. The following companies currently have these athletes under exclusive contract (updated 9/5/04). Keep in mind they could have signed for other companies before beginning their exclusive contracts. Also, companies often sell autographs from their exclusives to other companies. For instance, Steiner recently purchased some Clemens autos from Tri-Star, and Mounted Memories sold some Shaq autos to UDA for their Duel Signed Kobe/Shaq pieces. There are other stars who just NEVER sign commercially, Mike Piazza and Larry Walker just to name a few. Others have independent companies, Walter Payton (Payton Foundation), Wayne Gretzky (WGA), Barry Bonds (BBA), Bill Russell (Timeless Excellence/Hollywood Collectibles), Willie Mays (Say Hey! Authenticated) and Ted Williams (Green Diamond)
Don't be afraid to ask questions, like "Where and when the item was signed?, Where did the seller get it?" Think about the number of autographs the seller has available and where they were obtained. Most athletes will sign for fans at training camps or at charity events, but will usually sign only one per person. If a seller claims his items were signed 'In person,' be very wary if they have many of the same items available.
The value of an autograph is not limited to the
signature itself. The quality of the memorabilia should also be taken into
account. An Authentic Jersey (the same make and type used by the players)
costs up to four times as much as a replica. An Official NFL football is
made of leather, as is an Official NBA basketball, indoor/outdoor balls are
made of rubber. Game issue bats usually have the team name printed on them,
cheaper models may not even have the players name printed on it. Authentic
Football helmets have metal facemasks and real padding, replicas have plastic
facemasks and Styrofoam padding. One is the real thing, just like they use
on the field, the other no more
than a toy!
The final precaution you should take is to use your Credit Card or Paypal to make your purchase. You will then have a way to get your money back if you discover you have purchased a forgery. Granted, some sellers may not have a Merchant Credit Card Account that allows them to accept credit cards directly, but Paypal offers buyer protection and is easily available to all Internet sellers. If the seller doesn’t offer Paypal, ask if you can use it, then be wary of companies who refuse. Of course, to get your money back you will have to prove that it is a forgery, which is difficult and expensive, often costing more than the original autograph. So, the best precaution is to only buy from a reputable dealer who stands behind their autographs.
If you have all these things, dealer, COA, photo and hologram, the odds that you have an authentic autograph goes way up, and so does your resale value! Ten years from now when you decide to recoup your investment, no one will care if you have a COA from 'Joe Blow Sports' because no one will know who they are! Even if you are not interested in selling your collection, you still want to be sure the mementoes you pass on to your children were actually signed by your hero, not some con artist doing 5-10 for fraud! There are lots of crooks out there, it's "buyer beware!" Basically, you just have to be smart, do some homework, and remember, if it's too good to be true, it probably is!