Fending Off Fakes: Auction Company Round Table

It’s the elephant in the room.  Doctored cards.  Phony autographs.  Items made to look old or game worn that simply aren’t.  There are plenty of con men who try to take advantage of collectors.  Others know they’ve been had and attempt to pass them on to someone else.

Our Q&A with auction company officials continues with Question No. 9:  With the big money attached to some items, it can be tempting for people to create fakes.  Is it a bigger concern these days and do you see a lot of non-genuine memorabilia that people try to consign?  If so, what type of items?

Fake Joe DiMaggio autograph

Fake Joe DiMaggio autograph

Rob Lifson, Robert Edward Auctions:  “We see fake items every day. Fakes  include everything from cards to advertising items to autographs and really all kinds of memorabilia. Sometimes they are intentional fakes created to fool people. Sometimes it is innocent. Reproduction and “fantasy” paper items created with the use of modern computer technology and color printers are responsible for a lot of fakes that have fooled collectors over the past few years. Many times collectors don’t know they have a problem item until they try to sell it. We have to be on our toes all the time. It is always a concern.

If we had a dollar for every fake T206 Honus Wagner or Babe Ruth  rookie card ever offered to us, we wouldn’t know how to spend all the money. We could probably buy a real Wagner!  But these fake extremely valuable cards are easy to spot. They are not going to fool anybody. At least they are not going to fool us. It’s not as easy for collectors to spot fake cards that are encapsulated in holders of fake grading companies, especially from an online scan.

Last year we received a consignment of vintage cards all graded by a company called “Authentic Grading Services, Inc.” (“AGS”). To be clear, we couldn’t find “AGS” so we don’t think this is a real company, but that’s what was on the grading labels. It was quite a group. Included was a 1916 Babe Ruth rookie and lots of other extremely valuable gems. It was hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cards. There was one problem: All the cards were fake. And they were really well made fakes that were intentionally designed to fool collectors. These didn’t fool us but they were well done and did make us raise our eyebrows. We could see how someone who was not an experienced collector might be lulled into a false sense of security by the plastic holders (which are intentionally designed to resemble the holders of real grading companies) and be fooled. Every “AGS” card that we have seen that has been sent to us was fake. These “AGS” cards were sent by us to the FBI and have been destroyed but we’re sure there are others out there.”

Steve Bloedow, Collect Auctions:  “There are cheaters in every industry and it’s the auction house’s responsibility to stay ahead of them. We see a steady flow of non-authentic autographs, but we bring PSA/DNA in before each auction to review all signatures. If it doesn’t pass PSA/DNA or JSA, we don’t offer it for sale. The same thing is done with cards where grading can be used to clear out the fake items. There are experts in every field of this industry so if there are any questions, there’s always someone to ask.”

David Kohler, SCP Auctions:  “I really feel there’s less today than five or ten years ago.  I don’t think it’s fraud so much as people just not knowing.  Maybe they had it years ago and just didn’t know.  With all of the authentication services, it’s less and less of a problem.  There’s a protocol.  If a Babe Ruth ball comes out of an attic, it has to go through the authenticators to get the paperwork.   It’s hard for someone to try to circumvent that now.  However, prices now are a bit higher because of that need for confidence and the demand for things with solid provenance.  It’s taken away a lot of the guesswork.   People will pick other items if they have any questions about a particular item.”

J.P. Cohen, Memory Lane:  “Usually the items we see are autograph forgeries and since our business model is to only sell authenticated items to the hobby we are able to avoid the conflict and feel that the forgers will in the long run loose motivation if all dealers and collectors follow this standard.”

David Hunt, Hunt Auctions:  “While there has been a lot of improvement in the enforcement of fraudulent items and unethical auction house practices there is always room for more improvement.  The more layers of protection that can be put in place and the more information that can be shared the better it is for everyone involved in the hobby.”