Forged Sports Card Autographs

There are more forged sports card autographs out there than we would like. Especially now, when auto cards are more important than ever.

Nothing comes close to watching an NBA basketball or NFL football game in real life. When the game ends, you most likely hope to at least glimpse your favorite player off the playing ground. If you actually do, what would be your reaction?

You would probably ask for his signature on a sports card, program, or jersey. Naturally, sports memorabilia signed by your favorite player would be of sentimental value to you. However, it may also have significant value in the open market.

How To Determine The Value Of An Autograph

Summarily, below are a few things that determine the value of an autograph:

  • The person who signed the item would affect its overall value. A Mike Trout, for example, would be worth more than a Trevor Story.
  • The writing instrument (pencil, marker, ink, etc.) used is another determinant. For example, a pencil signature might have the most negligible value since it may fade more quickly.
  • A signed bat may have more value than a napkin. Likewise, signed photos are very popular; the bigger, the better.
  • The condition of the signature would also hold some water. For example, damage to an autograph or the signature could lower its value to an extent.
  • How many of those autographs are there? If it is scarce, it probably has more value.
  • Are there many forged copies of the autograph on the market? This factor may reduce the market price of the item, as people would be wary of buying fake autographs at the price of an original.
Barry Bonds is a reluctant signer, so his autos are relatively rare (look for Barry Bonds autographs on eBay).

Why Are Forged Sports Card Autographs A Widespread Problem

As we know, there are highly unscrupulous individuals in the hobby. Some trim cards or engage in other shady practices. Even the biggest players are sometimes involved.

Forged autographs have been making the rounds in the world of autograph collection for quite some time. However, according to Beckett Authentication Services (BAS), in 2020, 50% of the autographs submitted for authentication at the company turned out to be fake. They further said that although experienced collectors and auction houses filter some of the extremely bad forgeries, a significant percentage is still in circulation.

Forgers are well aware that fans and collectors would pay a considerable amount to own these items. They also know these items appreciate over time and could fetch a lot of money for the owners if they sell. Forgeries require skills, patience, and a pen.

Most of the materials used to make autographs are readily available (particularly with sports). Hence, it’s not hard for forgers to get hold of it. Even vintage signatures from players like Bade Ruth, Cy Youngs, Ty Cobbs, and Honus Wagner, who died in the ’40s and early ’60s, can be forged, although it would require considerable skills since the stars are long gone. Forgers are often exceptionally good at what they do. Nonetheless, some fakes show obvious signs of being phony.

The popularity of online marketplaces such as eBay, the largest facilitator of memorabilia auctions, makes it easy to buy and sell fake autographs. Unfortunately, most of these phony autograph traders on eBay seem to be getting away with the act. Some are selling at ridiculously high prices.

Forgers go to great lengths to forge Babe Ruth autos (get a Babe Ruth auto on eBay).

Efforts To Combat Forged Sports Card Autographs

People rarely buy autographs without the input of either Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA), James Spence Authentication (JSA), or Beckett Authentication Services (BSA), which are established, autograph authenticators. These companies make a lot of money from reviewing autographs at hobby conventions.

Authentification services are well worth the money for high-value items. An unauthenticated signature from Babe Ruth could sell for $250 because of its unverified state. With endorsement from any of the authentication services, its price could shoot up significantly. However, there is no denying that these paid authenticators sometimes make mistakes and back up the wrong autographs.

The FBI tried to deal with the problem in Operation Bullpen. But, unfortunately, from all appearances, it looks like forgers haven’t missed a beat, and 20 years after Operation Bullpen, the forgery business is thriving. For example, Arkansas businessman John Rogers was caught in a forged memorabilia case.

Later on, it was discovered that Rogers had been forging memorabilia and swindled banks and friends out of money worth $25 million. Based on a report by Chicago Tribune, some of the things he’s alleged to have forged range from a Mickey Mantle 1956 Triple Crown batting trophy to a phony commemorative football from Super Bowl I. As a result, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2018 on a wire fraud conviction. Meanwhile, in early July 2020, the FBI’s home of one Donald Henkel was raided on suspicions of operating an art forgery ring that involved fake sports memorabilia.

How Forged Sports Card Autographs Are Forged

The best forgers put a tremendous amount of effort into their creations. For example, forgeries of Babe Ruth autos often involve period-appropriate materials. To avoid detection, some are made with pre-World War II-era blue-black ink. The forgers also hunted down vintage baseballs, which were hard to find.

In some less sophisticated cases, forgers buy modern balls, removed the markings, and age them for a few days in bags of dog food to give them the musty vintage smell.

How to Tell When an Auto has been Forged

One thing is sure; no one wants to buy fake autographs even when they are expertly rendered. As such, it’s crucial to understand how to identify forged autographs. Below are some methods to determine if an autograph has been forged:

  • Check the seller’s account for Charts of Account (COA) that looks generic. Be careful of sellers that post unrealistic stories explaining how they came about an extensive collection of autographs. Another bad sign is if the auto is selling for a surprisingly low price. Deals that look too good to be true usually are.
  • Check the seller’s sales history to get an idea of the autographs they have sold in the past. If they sell uncertified autographs of huge names, it may be an indication of serial shady dealings.
  • Multiple signatures are often forged, so be particularly careful buying entire team autos or items of that sort.
  • If you discover that a seller has multiple accounts, do your investigation thoroughly before bidding.
  • Beware of product descriptions that do not give details about the autograph. Also, look carefully at detailed product descriptions for tell-tale signs.
  • Examine signatures thoroughly and make comparisons where possible. If you have a physical copy of the autograph you want to buy, you can scrutinize both. Some people have signatures that are difficult to copy, and mistakes could be noticeable.

The bottom line is avoiding autographs with prices that are too good to be true. Also, buy from trusted sources and, if possible, buy in person. Be particularly careful with big-ticket autos since there is a greater incentive to forge them. Finally, do your research.

Forged Autograph Cards

Below is a list of autographs with fake versions in circulation:

  1. 2000-2001 Kobe Bryant Ovation Autograph
  2. 1996 Topps Willie Mays Autograph
  3. 2009 Upper Deck Bryce Harper
  4. 2003 Topps Team Legends Willie Mays
  5. 2001 Upper Deck Legends Johnny Unitas
This is an all too common fake Kobe Bryant auto (picture taken from Blowout Forums).

How and Where to Authenticate Autographs

The first thing you need before submitting your autograph to an authentication company is proof of ownership. Be it paperwork, receipts, bills of sale, or names of previous owners. With any of these documents, you can approach a reputable authentication company like PSA, Beckett, JSA, and Autograph Certification Experts (ACE) to authenticate your autograph.

You can get one of these companies to authenticate your autograph at a fee. The more established the company is, the better your chance of obtaining an acceptable certificate for your autograph.

The certificates usually have a grade of 1-10, depending on the condition. If an autograph is faded or difficult to make out, it is best not to waste money on getting it authenticated. It might score a low mark, and this will reduce its market price.

PSA is one of the top auto authenticators (look for PSA authenticated autos on eBay).

Commonly Forged Autos 

Below is a list of some autos that crooks often forge.

  1. Babe Ruth
  2. Lou Gehrig
  3. Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, and Joe DiMaggio
  4. Micheal Jordan
  5. Yasiel Puig
  6. Muhammad Ali
  7. Tiger woods
  8. Derek Jeter
  9. Wayne Gretzky
  10. LeBron James

Always compare prices before buying an autograph, especially if you want to buy from any of those listed above.

Bottomline On Forged Sports Card Autographs 

It is sad to note that the sale of forged autographs has overwhelmed the sports memorabilia markets. Some fake autographs are so good that it is hard to differentiate them from the original. They seem to be everywhere, especially on eBay. So, always double-check every autograph you want to buy, and buy from trusted sources only.

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