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Home arrow Forgery News arrow EBAY forgeries - be careful ! High interesting !

EBAY forgeries - be careful ! High interesting ! Print E-mail
Written by FORBES Collectors USA   
Monday, 13 June 2005

Forgery Central

Hoping that signed Mark McGwire ball you bought on Ebay will help pay the grandkid’s tuition? Experts say: most autographs for sale there are flat-out fakes.

The Forbes Collector

Within a minute of logging on, Steve Grad found three Tiger Woods signatures being sold on Ebay that were “likely not genuine.”

Grad is a senior authenticator at Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA/DNA), one of the sports memorabilia industry’s leading autograph authenticators, and he says that these were easy to spot—he didn’t even have to check the signatures themselves. “Tiger doesn’t like to sign premium items,”he said, referring to the “autographed” items that were for sale: a trading card, a golf ball and a program from the Master’s Tournament.

“He’ll walk down a line of fans and maybe sign a couple of autographs, just on blank pieces of paper.He’ll ignore premium items unless it’s for a trading card from Upper Deck.” (Woods has a contract with the card company.) Indeed, a Tiger Woods–signed card that was authenticated by Upper Deck recently sold on Ebay for $938, a far cry from the $20.49 that the winning bidder paid for the “autographed” card that Grad had found.

The problem of forged autographs being sold on Ebay is rampant.As much as 85% of the autographs for sale are “crap,”says Al Wittnebert, treasurer of the Universal Autograph Collectors Club, an industry organization that offers resources to the autograph collecting community. And these aren’t just sports signatures; they’re autographs from Hollywood, from musicians, from U.S. presidents. And when you start talking about the big stars, Tim Fitzsimmons of the FBI says that the number is easily over 90%.

Fitzsimmons is the investigator behind Operation Bullpen,which in 2001 seized more than $10 million in forged sports memorabilia and convicted roughly 50 forgers and distributors. In the course of its investigations, the FBI has shown many of the forgeries for verification to the stars whose signatures were forged, like baseball stars Tony Gwynn and Mark McGwire, boxing legend Muhammed Ali, movie and music star Will Smith and Star Wars’s Anthony Daniels,who has devoted much of his own Web site to stopping forgery.

One woman, who goes by the screen name of “Rose” on an Ebay watchdog Web site, told us she bought more than $10,000 worth of forged autographed photos of stars like Marlon Brando, Madonna, Britney Spears and Clint Eastwood from a man who claimed to be friendly with lots of Hollywood stars. She then unknowingly sold the forgeries to others on Ebay.

It wasn’t until Rose peeled a sticker, which served as a “Certificate of Authenticity” (and which her supplier had urged her not to remove), off of the back of a signed Jerry Garcia photo that she found out. Underneath the sticker was the date that the photograph was printed—2003—even though Garcia died in 1995. A handwriting specialist confirmed for her that the signatures on the stack of Garcia photos did not belong to the former Grateful Dead guitarist.

After finding out, she contacted all of her buyers to offer refunds and immediately stopped selling what she had on hand. Her supplier denied that the autographs were fakes and is still actively selling on Ebay under several screen names.

David Bradley, who runs the forgery watchdog service, Bogus Autographs, on the Web site, testifies to Ebay’s growing problem. “You’ll have some guys who can come up with 200 to 300 cast posters, fully signed, of all the major movies as soon as they’re out, ten Lucille Balls a week, five Clint Eastwoods. Even the best autograph dealers, the reputable ones with amazing contacts, cannot produce that amount. But these guys do it every week.” And then those suppliers hook up with unsuspecting resellers like Rose.

Bradley’s advice is to be suspicious of anyone who can turn around large quantities of autographs, even if the seller has strong positive feedback on Ebay.The fact is,most of the “happy” customers don’t know or want to know that they have bought fakes, so they’ll readily vouch for their sellers. “I have yet to have one person out of the fifty I have convicted tell me that they’ve been able to make a profit running a legitimate business to collect signed photos.Many of them have tried it, and the costs are too high,” says Fitzsimmons.

Fitzsimmons says the forgers are very sophisticated. They’ve been known to comb thrift stores for old paper and pens in order to forge signatures of deceased stars. They will have a picture taken of a star signing one autograph and then put thirty or forty on the market. Even authenticators can come into question. Fitzsimmons mentions Don Frangipani, the “authenticator of choice”of many of the forgers Operation Bullpen convicted.Though Frangipani has denied any wrongdoing and not been charged, his name has appeared on hundreds of certificates of authenticity that vouched for fake sports autographs. His certificates have been banned by Ebay, but the COAs that remain are “not worth the paper they’re printed on,” according to Bradley.

While Ebay maintains that it’s not an auction house and therefore not legally responsible to vet the items sold via its online system, the forgery problem has gotten so bad that the online giant has taken the unusual step of enacting some protections for its buyers. For instance, Ebay and PSA/DNA recently unveiled a QuickOpinion program where a bidder on an autograph can submit the autograph, for a fee, to the authenticators at PSA/DNA for their judgement. In the case of the three Tiger Woods autographs, it would have saved a potential buyer from buying a forgery.

So what happens if you buy a fake? First, talk to your seller. If you bought from a reputable dealer who didn’t know it was a fake, that dealer will refund your money. If that doesn’t work, try Ebay for a refund, but don’t get your hopes up. Ebay offers a buyer protection program, but with this program, it will only refund up to $200 of the price you paid (minus a $25 fee).Later this year, according to Ebay spokesman Kevin Pursglove, that amount will be increased to $500, if you pay via PayPal. Pursglove also suggests using a credit card that offers a charge-back service.

Your next step is to contact the Better Business Bureau ( to register a complaint against the seller.Then you should alert your local police and those from the jurisdiction where your seller operates.You can also get in touch with the FBI. They may not get you a refund, but if there have been enough complaints they may be able to initiate legal action. For a list of legitimate collectible autograph dealers, see the UACC’s Registered Dealers at Beware of dealers merely claiming to be “members.”


Red FlagsWhen Buying Online

Whether they’re selling fake autographs or vintage cars, scammers have a common m.o. on Ebay. Here’s what to look out for.

Before the auction:
• Avoid items with blurry or out-of-focus pictures.
• Ask the seller questions.We asked a seller about a Babe Ruth autograph that didn’t look quite right. She said it was authenticated by Fleer, but we learned that Fleer doesn’t authenticate autographs, so we didn’t bid on the item.
• Check seller’s feedback for negatives, but don’t necessarily trust positives. Unscrupulous sellers sometimes buy lots of cheap items, padding their feedback with these innocuous transactions.
• Avoid sellers who have chosen to hide some of their feedback. It’s probably negative.

During the auction:
• Don’t let a seller convince you to take part in a private auction, or buy a product off of Ebay. This is almost always a sign of a scam. And if you don’t win an auction but are approached by the seller anyway because the winning bidder “fell through,” run.

After the auction:
• If a seller asks you to use an escrow site other than Ebay’s recommended site,, don’t. Many sellers set up sham escrow sites, like that look real but aren’t. You will never see the money again, and you won’t get the item you think you bought. This scam is most common for car sales on Ebay.
• Don’t use Western Union. This is like sending cash in the mail. No reputable seller will ever tell you that you don’t have other payment options.

Real versus Fake:How Much?

Forgeries often sell for considerably less than their real counterparts. Some common prices recently seen on Ebay are:

Beatles album signed by all four moptops
Real: $20,000–$45,000
Fake: $2,000–$6,000

Elvis signed paper
Real: $800–$1,000
Fake: $100

Babe Ruth signed baseball
Real: $1,500
Fake: $500

Lucille Ball signed photo
Real: $500–$800
Fake: $10–$30

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Last Updated ( Friday, 17 June 2005 )
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