While the recent exposure of some phony autographs on genuine T206 cards isn’t the biggest scandal in hobby history, it may be in the early stages and certainly worth the discussion it’s generating. On Wednesday, more fakes emerged including a Frank Baker, fully authenticated, that sold at auction for over $24,000 just one month ago.
It’s the latest in a growing list of forgeries being outed by collectors who are finding the unsigned matches online, most of which were sold that way in the recent past. In all, at least nine fake signed T206s have been discovered.
A few observations:
- The degree of separation between the forger and the person selling the fakes does not appear to be very big. It could even be the same person. At least some of the cards that have been discovered as carrying fake autographs were proven to have been purchased recently. The chain of custody is likely very short when you consider the time it takes to receive the unsigned card from the seller, create the forgery, send it off for authentication and consign it to auction. The buyer of the some of the unsigned cards that were uncovered as newly signed forgeries appears to be the same person.
- The person who benefitted from the scheme was incredibly careless and a little clueless. Acquiring a card on the web, where it’s totally trackable, and then profiting from its sale within a few months is just a dumb thing for a crook (or crooks) to do. Virtually nothing online disappears forever. Nearly everything of recent vintage can easily be found if you know what to search for–and often in a matter of a few minutes. Beyond that, the person who created and/or consigned the fakes and shipped them across state lines likely committed multiple federal crimes. While the forger obviously has enough skills with the pen to fool authenticators, he’s no genius. Most convicted of hobby fraud aren’t.
- Leaving such an obvious trail should make this case child’s play for law enforcement, which can ask for eBay and postal service records, among other things. Finding the problem and exposing it is one thing, though. Punishing the criminal is another. Most of the cards aren’t selling for big bucks and at least at this point, it’s a small number of items. That could mean the FBI or even local law enforcement agents may not deem it worthy enough to pursue. Or, it could send up a signal that there’s a much bigger problem and an investigation might reveal these fakes are just the tip of a larger ink-stained iceberg. Many fraud cases start small and local and wind up big and national. The more fake cards that are uncovered and the more money that’s involved in the scam, the more interest investigators will take.
- At first it seemed like a recent development but it appears now as if the T206 “signings” have been happening for at least three years after the discovery of a card bought in 2015 resurfaced as a signed example in a spring 2016 auction.
- Collectors remain the backbone of the hobby. This entire saga began with one collector reaching out to fellow members of an online vintage card forum for an opinion after his authenticated T206 autograph was rejected by another company. Another member did some online digging and discovered a trail of original, low-cost cards that now suddenly had autographs and were selling for a lot more. The knowledge base and resourcefulness of experienced collectors is highly underrated.
- We know at least one auction company quickly refunded money to the buyer of one of the fakes and paid to have it returned in an effort to find out who is responsible for its existence. Hopefully others are doing the same. That’s how you handle such a problem.
- For all the complaining about technology ruining the hobby, the internet is playing a central role in this case. Instant communication, trackable photos that can be enlarged with a click, easily accessible auction records—all are just part of the great tools we have now that didn’t exist until the web became a little more sophisticated. Many years ago, none of what happened would be possible. The faker would continue to fake. Collectors would continue to lose money.