Autographed sports memorabilia is a multi-billion dollar industry. Unfortunately, the size of the fraudulent sports memorabilia market isn’t far behind. An FBI report estimated more than 50 percent of autographed items sold are fraudulent, and the industry’s 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.
The volume of sports memorabilia bought and sold online certainly accounts for a growing share of the market, and, unfortunately, has eased the ability of criminals to peddle fake autographed balls, bats, photos, jerseys, etc. to the unwitting consumer. For the casual sports fan or professional collector, there are a number of steps that can be taken to ensure the sports memorabilia you buy online is authentic.
– Understand Benefits, Limits of Certificate of Authenticity – Certificates of Authenticity may accompany an item purchased on eBay or other online sites or, alternatively, fans and collectors can submit autographs, photos, etc. to an authentication service such as PSA|DNA. These services employ signature and authentication experts that will examine, for a fee, submitted items and provide Letters of Authenticity if the autograph is deemed authentic.
Services like PSA|DNA guarantee that major auction houses (Christie’s, Mastro Fine Sport, Grey Flannel, Hunt Auctions, etc.) will accept items accompanied by their Letters of Authenticity or will provide a refund. Word of caution however with Certificates and Letters of Authenticity: they can provide an added layer of validity and assurance for the purchaser, but unscrupulous sellers can produce fake certificates. At the same time, it is important to note that authenticity services typically do not guarantee autographs, and collectors are simply paying for the opinion of industry experts using advanced authentication tools.
– Buyer Beware…Of Bargains – While it sounds counter-intuitive to the sports memorabilia collector always on the hunt for quality, authentic memorabilia priced unusually low relative to the rest of the market can be a red flag. Sellers of fraudulent memorabilia want to move their inventory fast, and setting a low price will surely attract interest. A buyer must remove the emotional element of scoring a great deal and be guided by common sense instinct on whether a price seems too good to be true.
– Research, Research, Research – In some ways the Internet is akin to the check-out line at a retail store, tempting buyers with loads of impulse items that they may not actually need or want. With millions of memorabilia items at their fingertips via the Web, consumers must avoid snap, impulse purchases. Sellers of fraudulent memorabilia can certainly be savvy, but buyers aren’t doing themselves any favors if they fail to take even the simplest of precautions. For example, if you are purchasing an autographed item, research available images of that athlete’s autograph and compare it to the one you are considering for purchase. Suspicious deviations from verified autographs are a clear warning sign.
– Collect Input From The Collectors – Buyers considering items on eBay or other sites should not underestimate feedback provided on the seller by other users. While it is certainly not unheard of for sellers to stack their reviews with favorable ratings, the reviews are, for the most part, legitimate. Collectors take authenticity very seriously, and will be quick to post concerns about sold items so that other buyers are not duped.
– Consider league auction sites – For the sports memorabilia collector there is always a tradeoff between price and certainty of sports memorabilia authenticity. CBSSports.com now has an official online auction network that allows fans to bid on a range of memorabilia items, experiences and apparel. While the minimum bid price might not promise the same bargain as other, less official item sources, there is certainly a level of validity and assurance when dealing with items sold on a professional league sports site.