A judge in Birmingham, AL has sentenced an autograph forger to more than three years in federal prison for wire fraud and identity theft.
Douglas Edward Duren, 38, of Atlanta, GA, pleaded guilty to the charges in March. Duren admitted to a long-running scheme of selling fake sports and entertainment autographs on three websites: everymemorabilia.com, neautograph.com, and awesomememorabilia.com.
According to the plea agreement, Duren obtained retail items without autographs, such as sports equipment, photographs, books, and movie posters. He then forged autographs on the memorabilia, and sold them for profit through the websites. He created his own letters of authenticity, at least some of which carried the bogus company name “Smithson Autographs.”
Duren committed the fraud scheme while living in Maryland and then subsequently relocated his operation to Atlanta, Georgia. Investigators say Duren sold phony autographs for nearly ten years from 2010-2019 but it wasn’t until he stole some TV advertising that they became aware of his scheme.
According to the plea agreement, on May 22, 2018, Duren impersonated an account director of an advertising agency and defrauded a television station located in Birmingham, promising to pay $80,000 for ads promoting Duren’s fraudulent website everymemorabilia.com. The station began running the ads but Duren never paid for them.
On July 24, 2018, Duren impersonated an account director of a different advertising agency, and contacted another station located in Madison County, Alabama. Prosecutors say he falsely claimed to represent a legitimate memorabilia company and was able to negotiate a four-week advertising campaign with a budget of $55,000. On July 25, 2018, Duren uploaded the file containing his advertisement to the TV station’s server from his home in Maryland. The ad for his website with the fake autographs began running on July 30, 2018. Again, prosecutors say Duren never paid television station for the airtime.
After one of the TV stations contacted the FBI, undercover agents began investigating Duren and his websites. Two purchases made by the Bureau revealed fake movie posters. Agents then began observing Duren at his home in Maryland where in February 2019, they watched him toss several items in a dumpster including “mailing labels and cards bearing markings that appear as though signatures had been practiced on them.”
After Duren moved to Atlanta, the FBI continued to watch him. Among other things, agents say they saw him purchase a baseball in a glass case and a pack of markers at a Target store. Prosecutors say Duren’s website inventory included baseballs with signatures he’d forged.
Agents executed a search warrant on October 8, 2019 and prosecutors say “numerous additional examples of counterfeit and fraudulent memorabilia” were discovered.
How many fake autographs may have been sold by Duren and how many were sports related wasn’t revealed. A Wayback Machine snapshot of neautographs taken in 2018 touted “feedbacks on Yahoo and Amazon reaching in excess of four figures.” FBI agents say Duren visited a local post office several times a day to mail memorabilia.
“My office will aggressively prosecute those who use the internet and other media to defraud the public,” U.S. Attorney Prim F. Escalona said. “We applaud the FBI’s efforts in bringing this individual to justice.”