Fake autographs on eBay are more prevalent today than during the FBI Operation Bullpen sting a few years ago. It seems that this new generation of fraudulent sellers have forgotten how many people the FBI put in jail during their investigation. The industrys leading autograph authenticator, PSA-DNA, claims that only 33 percent of more than 10,000 Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan autographs it scrutinized were real.
That means more than 6,600 of the 10,000 signatures PSA-DNA sampled were forgeries. eBay is a prime place to sell fake autographs because most bidders are new to the market and don't know how to spot a real autograph. Some bogus dealers trick customers by providing a Certificate of Authenticity from their own unknown company. They even create their own holograms complete with serial numbers in an effort to appear as a legitimate seller. These sellers often have very good feedback on eBay because they ship the items out fast and provide good service to take the focus off the fraudulent autographs they are selling. Remember, most of the criminals who were prosecuted by the FBI had tons of positive feedback on eBay before they were arrested.
Great feedback does not mean that the seller is offering real autographs. It just means that the buyers don't realize the items are fake when they get them. If you can't tell that an autograph is fake based on the listing, you won't be able to tell when you actually get the product in your hands.
The solution is to buy from well-known companies who have a reputation for contracting direct with athletes. Big name companies who contract with athletes can tell you when the item was signed. Companies like Upper Deck, Steiner Sports, Mounted Memories, ALLAuthentic.com and others have strong reputations when it comes to authentic autographs. When a well-known company has a strong reputation for dealing in authentic autographs, they will go to great lengths to ensure authenticity.
On the other hand, when you see an unknown seller offering signed Michael Jordan jerseys without Upper Deck Authentication, you have to question the authenticity of that item. Jordan has an exclusive contract with Upper Deck and he doesn't sign for anyone else. Furthermore, if this seller is offering their own certificate (i.e. Bob's Sports Shack) with their own unknown hologram, the alert signals should be going off. The fictional company above (Bob's Sports Shack) would not have access to Jordan and would not be able to get Jordan's autograph without going through Upper Deck. Not all scenarios are as cut and dry as this one, but most of the time, if you put several elements together and look at the seller's other items, you can determine whether or not the seller is offering authentic autographs. Athletes charge for their autograph.
A legitimate dealer has to pay an athlete a good sum of money to sign things for them. Usually dealers who contract with athletes in this way will be able to tell you where and when the items were signed because it is in their best interest to document the signing. So if you see a seller on eBay that has 500 items for sale from every imaginable athlete and celebrity, that is a warning sign. I have seen sellers who have multiple quantities of everyone from Joe Montana, to Britney Spears, John Lennon, and other autographs that are very tough to get. Usually all of the certificates are from the same unknown company which is another hint that the autographs are fake.
Study the seller and their other items closely before purchasing. This will save you a lot of time and money and you will end up with an item that is an investment instead of an expensive mistake.