Sports card counterfeiters are getting more sophisticated according to one grading company, which has seen business continue to increase, but also more attempts to slip one past their loupes and into a holder.
Mark Anderson of Beckett Grading Services kicked off the first day of the Industry Summit by telling several dozen card shop owners what the company has observed as printing tools available to scammers become more sophisticated.
Anderson displayed a small loupe used by the company’s graders and told the attendees that they don’t actually use it for grading but rather to answer common questions about the card that can’t be seen by the naked eye. On vintage cards, they’re looking for things like a re-colored border on a 1971 Topps card or whether an effort has been made to conceal a crease by ‘spooning’ which can smooth it out, but usually leaves evidence.
The high prices being paid for modern cards, however, are inviting unscrupulous sellers to go to great lengths to try and re-create a Tom Brady rookie. Printing technology has improved so much in recent years that duplicating the gold foil stamping present on many cards is something con artists aren’t scared to try. Sometimes they’ll try to pass them off through a grading service. Other times, they’re sold via eBay or another online outlet to unsuspecting buyers and bidders looking for a bargain.
“Counterfeiters are now very aggressive,” Anderson said. “Any card is susceptible.”
One technique being used involves taking a common player autograph on a sticker, erasing the Sharpie signature, faking a superstar’s autograph and placing that sticker on a card of the star player who has indeed signed cards for that product. Beckett Grading says it will often catch those attempts because the ink that’s been erased tends to adhere to the edges of the phony sticker.
Anderson encouraged shop owners to utilize a loupe to look at higher valued cards they may be offered. Cards that are ‘created’ often show small dots around a logo or name from the home printing process or fading around the edges of words.
The most commonly counterfeited card is the 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan rookie card, Anderson explained. His office receives as many as five fake Jordan rookies each day.
Anderson also encouraged shop owners not to place high value autographed rookie cards under florescent lighting. Over time, the signature will fade. He showed one example of a 2001 Albert Pujols Bowman Chrome where the original signature had faded and the owner tried to retrace it, with dismal results.
BGS has partnered with James Spence Authentication to have signed cards authenticated.
Fake patches on ‘relic cards’ are also a problem.
“We send scans to the card companies every day and ask ‘did you use this patch?’, Anderson said of some of the higher quality logo patch cards that are submitted. Scammers will often try to substitute a higher quality patch they purchased from a retail type jersey for the one that was originally in the card. Patches are usually placed inside the back of the card before the top goes on. “Look at the top of the window on the card. That’s often where you see that it may have been lifted (to put another patch in),” Anderson said.
While spotting fake cards is a big part of business for a grading company, Anderson said a positive sign for the hobby is that more collectors are submitting what he called ‘collector quality’ cards worth less than $5 that may not be thought of as worthy of being placed in a holder simply because they want to.
“We’ve never been busier,” he said.