Defending Yourself From Sports Card Pack Searchers

The hobby is getting prohibitively expensive. When we invest hundreds or thousands of dollars in it, we want to know that no one is ripping us off. Unfortunately, the bigger the money, the more sports card pack searchers are motivated to engage in unscrupulous practices.

We traveled into the dark bowels of the pack searching universe to get a first hand look at common pack searching scams.  After we had finished washing ourselves off thoroughly, we write this post to provide you with the information you need to protect yourself.

Pack Searching And Weighing Is Not Illegal

It may not be illegal, but it is a very problematic and profoundly unethical act.  An essential part of the fun and value of opening packs is the potential for a massive hit.  Pack searchers and weighers steal that potential from innocent collectors.  Buying packs that have been searched is the equivalent of buying a lottery ticket with worse-than-stated odds.

Sports Card Pack Searching

We recently warned you about how easy it is to search within the new 2020-21 Donruss basketball fat packs. Unfortunately, it is not that hard to search other packs as well.

Pack searchers try to exploit any vulnerability in the packaging to find “hot packs.” They will slide the cards all around, and the worst ones bend the cards to see how flexible the contents are. The latter practice goes further than gaining an unfair advantage. They also ruin the remaining cards for actual collectors.

A pack searcher at work.

How Sports Card Pack Searching is Done

There are several techniques to pack search. I don’t want to get into too much detail and provide a manual. But these are the primary methods:

  • Swiping: The practice of taking the heavy packs and feeling the sides carefully to determine if it contains a decoy or a hit. The giveaway is a dent in the sides.
  • Sliding: Moving all the cards to the bottom of the pack, then sliding each one up individually. This method allows the searcher to feel the card for bumps and indentations that are tell-tale signs of autos.
  • Cutting the edges: Some people cut the pack open on one edge with scissors or calipers. That allows the searcher to see if there are any chrome cards in there.

How to Defend Yourself Against Sports Card Pack Searching

  1. Purchase boxes instead of packs.  Retail packs, fat packs, and cello packs all can be purchased in sealed boxes.  These boxes can be weighed (more on that below) but they are less vulnerable to being weighed than blasters, hangers, and megas.
  2. Look for packs at a reputable local card store. You can usually rely on the owners to stop any pack searching on the premises.  However, some bad actors stop others from searching in their store and then turn around and do it themselves. The pack searcher community has also reported that they have had success bribing card shop owners and hobby show sellers. That is just one of many reasons that trusted local card stores are precious to the hobby.
  3. Get packs when the vendor is stocking.  If you can buy packs right when the packs hit the shelves you can be confident that nobody searched them before you.

Loose packs often sell for a discount compared to other formats on the secondary market.  They are only a good value if you effectively protect yourself from scammers.

Sports Card Pack Weighing

Back in the junk wax days, it made no sense to weigh packs because everything weighed the same. However, card companies try to keep the hobby interesting by adding new types of inserts.

They have added relics, patch cards, different cuts, autographs, refractors, and other innovative cards to even their less expensive packs. Aside from the occasional duds, we love them, and they make ripping more fun than ever.

However, some of the most valuable cards weigh more than regular cards. That makes it relatively easy for flippers to weigh packs and determine a special card’s presence through minor variations between pack weights.

The most harmless version of this is when you pick out a pack that looks thicker than the others, hoping it proves more valuable. After all, Topps and Panini add dummy cards to the packs to throw you off. Therefore, it is a calculated and legitimate risk.

Giant 20 LB Sports Card (Baseball & Football) Lot - shopgoodwill.com

How Sports Card Pack Weighing Is Done

The individuals in question bring small scales into retail stores. They use either Harbor Freight scales or jewelry scales. However, jewelry scales are considered better for this task because they weigh down to a .01 gram resolution and therefore are more precise.

Sports Card Weighers Target Boxes As Well As Packs

The great advantage of weighing over searching is that you can weigh boxes as well as packs.  One release we investigated has cold boxes that weigh 208 grams and hot boxes with hits weigh 213 grams.  The difference is subtle but distinct.  Once armed with this information, it’s simply too easy for a seller to open the hot ones and sell the cold ones, if he so desires.

How to Protect Yourself From Sports Card Pack Weighing

Use similar techniques as you would against pack searchers:

  1. Purchase your boxes from reputable hobby shops, straight from Panini, Topps, Walmart, or Target online.
  2. Get your retail boxes when the vendor is stocking.
  3. Buy sealed cases of boxes, or boxes you are comfortable are coming from a sealed case (ie: split a case with a friend).

Unfortunately, there is little else you can do about pack weighing in retail stores. Of course, if you catch one in action, you can call store staff on them or shame them by posting pictures online. It is the stores’ responsibility to do something, but they are usually too understaffed and uninformed of the ethics of the issue to take any measures.

One great forum for it is this Twitter account, which documents some of these bozos in action. A great hashtag to use is #packpervert, a reference to the creepy fondling involved in pack searching.

The good news about the current retail craze is that the people waiting in long lines at retail outlets divide up the goods far too quickly for anyone to pull weights out of their gym shorts or whatever they do.

Most of the sightings of people weighing cards in Walmart and Target are a few years old. Even the section on weighing on http://packsearchers.com has no postings from the last year. In-person pack weighing is a dying art. So sad.

Protecting Yourself from Sports Card Pack Searchers on eBay

But the real problem with pack weighing today is the resellers on eBay and other marketplaces. While no one will admit doing it, there is a significant risk that if you buy packs or cards from a random seller, they weighed them or searched them.

The more valuable the cards are, the more likely they are to do it. The temptation is just too great, and people are flawed. Therefore, you really should avoid buying packs and boxes from anyone but the most respected and reputed sellers.

Avoid Buying Hot Packs

One crucial step is not to buy “hot packs” from eBay or anywhere else. Always ask yourself, how did the seller figure out the pack is hot, to begin with? Obviously, by using one of these methods.

Then ask yourself, if they are unscrupulous enough to pack, search and weigh, are they really going to sell the hottest packs for a reasonable price? Chances are, they will retain the best “hot packs” for themselves and sell you the less valuable “hot packs”.

 

People will try to sell you “hot packs.” Buying them helps the scammers.

How to Avoid Buying Cold Packs

If you are buying loose packs or even boxes online, it’s worth looking up other listings from the seller.  If they have any hot packs for sale, avoid the seller altogether.  You don’t want their hot packs because you’re paying a premium for what will likely be a disappointing hit.  And you certainly don’t want the other packs they’re selling, because there’s a good chance that any pack they sell that isn’t labeled as “hot” is searched and therefore “cold”.

Resealed Sports Card Packs and Boxes

Another tried and trusted method for getting the hits is opening the boxes, scavenging through, and then resealing once done. Flippers will then sell the box, minus the hits, on eBay or return it to the store where unsuspecting collectors pick them up. Unlike the other methods we mentioned, this one is illegal.

It is surprisingly easy to do. Most packs have a flip on the back of the back that you can pull open without tearing the pack. So, scammers remove the hits and put the cards back in the pack. There is adhesive on that part of the pack, so resealing does not even require glue.

Scammers open the back through the foil flip at the back.

Hanger and blaster boxes are also pretty easy to open and reseal. The most common way in is through the bottom flaps, which they can open with a bit of pressure. It is almost always the bottom that is tampered with. Not only because it is easier, but because people don’t look there. Some fold back into place, while others require some adhesive.

How to Prevent Being Scammed through Resealing

  1. With hangers and blasters, always make sure the product is shrink-wrapped. That is true in a retail store but just as important when buying off eBay.
  2. Since the vast majority of resealing techniques involve the bottom of the box, check carefully to ensure that the opening there is entirely intact. Any sign of ripping or visible adhesive is a dead giveaway.
  3. Get familiar with the product.  Similar to our advice when detecting fake Jordan rookies, it’s helpful if you have another example of the box.  If you don’t have one in hand, look up pictures.  Some releases are wrapped in rigid plastic, some with softer plastic wrap stamped with Topps or Panini.  Know what it should look like to avoid problematic boxes.

What Else Should I Know?

There are many good people in the card collecting community, and they are our best resource for protection. One of the best things you can do is follow the forums like https://www.blowoutforums.com/ and get involved with #thehobby Twitter. Also, keep updated on Cardlines because we have your back.

Just think of us collectors as a pack of zebras on the savannah. When we are isolated, predators can pick us off. But in a pack, we are safe.

 

 

 

 

 

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim is a former history and political science professor at UCLA. He has a PhD from the University of Calgary. Shai also worked as a diplomat and journalist on three continents.


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