Since the company was founded, I have been a fan of, collector of, buyer of, seller of, and for almost a year from 1998 to 1999, the Autographed Product Manager of Upper Deck Authenticated. So I almost have to laugh when people who have never worked at UDA try to lecture me about UDA hologram numbers. This typically happens when a prospective buyer tries to look up an old UDA hologram number on the Upper Deck website. In the vast majority of cases, the result is a very unsatisfying, “We are unable to locate AUE31237 in our hologram database. Older hologram numbers and hologram numbers from shows have not been transferred over to our on-line database as of yet. Please contact our Customer Service Department at (800)551-8220 or via e-mail at email@example.com to confirm the authenticity of your item.” And calling UDA doesn’t help sometimes. They still can’t verify the hologram number. Does this mean the autograph and/or hologram is fake? No, of course not. You see, when I worked at UDA 15 years ago, the hologram database WAS ALREADY INCOMPLETE. Now, add a decade and a half of the most corporate turmoil you can possibly imagine, on top of the manpower and technology it would have required UDA to completely update its hologram database, and the result is, untold tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of hologram numbers are unverifiable. There have been rumors of counterfeited and stolen UDA holograms, and I have spotted a few suspicious looking Michael Jordan UDA jerseys on eBay not that long ago. However, I would still say that the likelihood of any autographed item with a numbered UDA hologram on it being fake is way, way less than 1%, and I can’t say the same about any other manufacturer’s hologram or sticker. Now, if I were in charge of UDA, would I be concerned about this database problem? Sure — it doesn’t inspire confidence in your current products when older products can’t be verified. In fact, it sort of defeats the purpose of your “patented five-step process” when one of the steps, arguably one of the most important ones, can’t be independently confirmed. But realistically, how would UDA even begin to address the problem? It’s extremely doubtful that UDA even retains the paperwork necessary to update the database, even if they wanted to try. So what we’re left with is the industry leader in sports autograph authentication technology having a very incomplete database, and both buyers and sellers frustrated. If you want to pass on buying a UDA autographed product because the hologram number can’t be verified, that is your right. Just be aware that you’re almost certainly passing on an authentic product because of a company that meant well, but went through so many managerial, personnel and technical changes that something should have been important to maintain wasn’t maintained at all.
If you actively collect sports autographs, you know that fakes are a huge problem. What you may not know is the problem is probably worse when it comes to entertainment autographs, especially of modern movie stars.
Of all the commonly sold autographed items on the market, cast autographed movie posters are the most likely to be fake. Obviously, there is great demand, and therefore strong incentive to commit fraud. Who wouldn’t want a cast autographed poster of their favorite movie?
The problem is in the difficulty of actually obtaining such an item. Think about it logically. When do movie posters get released? Typically no more than a few months before the scheduled release date of the movie.
Once a movie’s script is finalized, it typically takes at least several months to film, and another several months to edit and produce. Then it often sits for months awaiting its release date, which is carefully timed by Hollywood to maximize the box office.
So where are the actors and actresses when a movie’s posters are first released? Usually they are scattered all over the country, if not the world, because filming has long been completed and the movie is in post-production or “in the can” awaiting release. The actors are on to their next project or filming their TV show or relaxing at home. They aren’t hanging out together somewhere, conveniently waiting to be approached by autograph dealers with posters.
What about conventions like San Diego Comic-Con, the biggest pop culture event in the world? Well, I haven’t missed a Comic-Con in about 15 years. I’ve attended more movie signings than I can remember, as in several dozen. And guess what — entire movie casts almost NEVER show up together. Usually it’s just one or two of the biggest stars and maybe the director, not entire casts.
What about red carpet premieres in Hollywood? Some are accessible, some are not, but even there, some or even most of the cast may attend. Rarely all. And only some of the actors will take the trouble to walk over and sign on the red carpet. At the 2011 Ides of March premiere I attended in Hollywood, the only main star who signed was George Clooney, and not everyone there even got him.
If it’s a big name, you’re talking about a chaotic mob scene. You wouldn’t even want to TRY getting a movie poster (especially a full size one) signed because there’s a much greater chance of it getting damaged than signed. The star probably will grab the first pen he or she sees, and scribble with it for a while, then walk away. That’s exactly what Clooney did.
When I see all these cast autographed movie posters on eBay, Amazon and elsewhere neatly signed, signatures perfectly spaced in the same color pen, I almost don’t even need to look at the signatures to know they’re fake. In my opinion, at least 95% of cast autographed movie posters on the market are forged. If you’re shopping for one, use extreme caution because more than likely you’re about to be burned.
Way back when I first started selling online more than 15 years ago, there were essentially two types of NFL football jerseys the general public could buy: AUTHENTIC with stitched cloth tackle twill name and numbers, and REPLICA with screen printed name and numbers.
Each NFL team contracted with its own manufacturer, and sometimes changed between seasons, resulting in a mish-mash of brands: Adidas, Champion, Nike, Puma, Russell Athletic and Starter, among others, all made officially licensed NFL jerseys during the 1990s. In 2002, Reebok signed a 10 year contract with the NFL to become the official jersey supplier for all its teams. Many of the signed and unsigned NFL and college football jerseys offered on AutographsForSale.com were blank licensed jerseys from one of these companies that were professionally stitched with real cloth tackle twill name and numbers.
In 2012, Nike took over by signing a 5 year contract. Mitchell and Ness retained the license to produce obsolete (throwback) NFL jerseys of players who they contracted with individually. As global commerce has increased, things have gotten much more complicated, primarily due to the flood of bootleg, knockoff and counterfeit “authentic” jerseys coming from Asia priced at a fraction of the real thing. Perhaps the most faked jerseys are Mitchell and Ness because the real ones retail for hundreds of dollars which are unaffordable for many fans.
If you are buying a jersey just to wear, don’t care much about quality, don’t intend to get it autographed, and don’t intend to ever get it cleaned or laundered, then bootlegs are probably an acceptable option. If not, you should avoid bootlegs. The poor quality is usually noticeable once compared to a real jersey. The name and numbers appear shiny and wrinkly instead of flat and smooth. That’s because they are made of cheap vinyl or plastic made to resemble cloth fabric. If you get the jersey signed, it could very well bleed and/or fade. If you put it in the wash or send it to a dry cleaner, the vinyl or plastic may not survive intact.
Earlier this year ESPN Outside the Lines ran a piece that shone a bright light on this problem. The bootlegs are everywhere on Amazon, eBay and the internet in general. If you use Facebook, the ads on the right side often advertise websites that sell fakes. It’s often hard to detect the bootlegs because the sellers frequently use images of REAL jerseys to sell fakes.
If you’re trying to avoid bootleg jerseys — and this applies to “authentic” MLB, NBA and NHL jerseys too — my best advice is simple. If the price is too good to be true, it probably is. If the jersey is being shipped from anywhere in Asia, it’s almost definitely counterfeit. Unfortunately, bootlegs have spread beyond the internet and can now be found at many legitimate retail stores who either don’t know or don’t care that they’re selling fakes. And in these cases, the prices may not be suspiciously low, so buyers are getting doubly screwed.
Complicating matters are the introduction of NBA “Swingman” type semi-authentic licensed NFL jerseys with stitched name and numbers. Typically these jerseys are distinguishable from authentic jerseys by the lack of layering on the numbers — the contrasting outline color will be part of the number instead of a separately stitched layer.
On AutographsForSale.com we strive to sell only authentic jerseys whether they are signed or unsigned. However, we use terms like replica, semi authentic, authentic style and game model which may be confusing so if you have any questions about any jersey listed for sale, just call or e-mail. In the meantime, you can find more about identifying bootleg jerseys elsewhere on the internet, including here, here and here.
An Open Letter to Mounted, Schwartz, Steiner, TriStar, UDA and Other Autographed Memorabilia Companies
Selling autographed sports memorabilia is your primary business and mine too. When anyone buys a fake autograph, that’s money that in some cases could be coming out of your pocket, my pocket or both of our pockets.
In case you didn’t notice, the problem with fake autographs on Amazon and eBay is out of control. The situation is as bad as it was before the FBI’s Operation Bullpen and Foul Ball operations many years ago, when both Amazon and eBay were small Internet companies. Yet for some reason, you don’t seem to care about this problem, and I do.
Which is funny because you stock hundreds of different items signed by dozens of different players; I stock thousands of different items signed by hundreds of different players. You deal mainly in MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL autographs. So do I, but I also deal heavily in “minor” sports like boxing, golf, soccer and tennis.
Therefore, the fact that Amazon and eBay are flooded with forgeries of Troy Aikman, Larry Bird, John Elway, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning, Joe Montana, Joe Namath, Albert Pujols and Lawrence Taylor — just to name some of the most commonly faked names — affects me only a little. But companies like yours are paying these players to sign, or trying to get customers to pay them to sign at shows. It affects you a whole lot more.
When you call or e-mail me about upcoming signings, I look at your prices and usually laugh. Because you’re asking me to pay more WHOLESALE for autographs that are being sold for less on Amazon or eBay at RETAIL. Yeah, they’re fake, but guess what — people are buying them.
I’ve been selling autographs full time for more than 13 years. My business is booming. Maybe yours is too, but from what I’m hearing, it’s probably not. Regardless, we all have room for improvement, and doing something about all the fakes on the market would represent a win-win-win for wholesale companies, retail companies and end consumers.
In case you haven’t noticed, the FBI is too busy with terrorism and other national security issues to concern itself with the relatively trivial crime of forging fake autographs. I have voicemail and e-mail messages dating back to 2010 from FBI agents who knew what was going on and how bad the problem was, and promised to investigate. I’m still waiting. So forget the FBI, it may be a decade before they bother busting anyone, if then.
The media? They are either too naive or too worried about being sued to blow the lid off this issue on their own. Yes, if companies like yours would be proactive about just how bad the problem was, the media would gladly help you spread the word.
Amazon or eBay? Don’t be silly. Both companies are happily collecting sales commissions from all the fakes that are being sold on their websites. If confronted with enough evidence from player agents, they might actually take action in an effort to avoid being sued themselves. But until then, they’ll just look the other way.
So I understand that you are all relatively small companies, and you compete with each other. Maybe you’re understaffed already. Maybe you tried in the past to raise the red flags and nothing happened. Maybe you’re worried about being sued. Honestly none of these concerns should stop you from getting involved immediately.
I have spent countless hours trying to publicize this problem in the media, get law enforcement involved and alert Amazon and eBay. But there’s only so much I can do by myself. Your companies arrange signings with players via their agents. I don’t. If you want to take action, I am eager and willing to help start cleaning up this mess. Call me or e-mail me and I’ll give you all the information and contacts I have, which is substantial.
If you want to continue doing nothing and watch this industry sink deeper and deeper, go right ahead. Either way, I’ll still be here selling autographs no matter what.
Back in February, I noticed something odd. Amazon and eBay were flooded with autographs from Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. The Amazon autographs were almost all from the same outfit that is notorious for selling zillions of forgeries of everyone from Muhammad Ali to Michael Jordan, so I assumed those were all fake. By the way, I’ve reported these fraudsters to anyone and everyone and no one seems to care — more on these criminals in a future blog post.
The eBay autographs were a different story. It’s normal for college football superstars to be bombarded with autograph requests from dealers like me when they practice on campus, go on regular season road trips or bowl game trips, attend award banquets etc. Sometimes they sign, sometimes they refuse.
It wouldn’t have surprised me to see several dozen Manziel autographs on eBay, with a few fakes mixed in with real ones, but it was the quantity (hundreds) and the quality that surprised me. These autographs were obviously not signed in a big crowd of people at the airport. They were too legible, some had inscriptions, and many were authenticated by JSA or PSA/DNA.
All signs pointed to Manziel doing a sit down signing of some sort. Which would be fine for a player with no more college eligibility . . . but not Manziel, who had only played one season at Texas A&M. If he accepted compensation for an autograph session, he’d have blatantly violated NCAA regulations.
Surely Manziel knew that. I picked up the phone and called my friend syndicated columnist Bill Wagner (Babe Waxpak) and filled him in. He in turn thoroughly investigated the situation. In March, his article was published in many newspapers and it included quotes from me and Manziel’s dad Paul.
Paul Manziel denied that his son had participated in any paid signings and claimed that most of the autographs on the market were fake. I wouldn’t call Paul a liar, since It’s certainly possible that Johnny did a paid signing without his father’s knowledge.
I said in the article, “If Manziel did any kind of signing for a dealer, it would be unprecedented for a player with remaining eligibility, clearly would be outside the auspices of Texas A&M and would be exactly what someone in his position would be strongly advised not to do — devalue his own autograph before he’s even able to profit from it himself.”
Today’s report from ESPN contains strong evidence that Manziel indeed did at least one large paid signing in Florida in January in front of multiple witnesses. I wish I had known how stupid and shortsighted Manziel was before I provided that quote. We’ll soon see if the NCAA rules him ineligible for 2013, as they should.
Sure, you could argue that the hypocrites at the NCAA who cut billions of dollars in TV contracts with networks like CBS and ESPN should let “student-athletes” like Manziel make whatever they can on their likenesses and autographs. That’s not the point. The point is, Manziel was either aware of the regulations and naively thought no one would find out, or was unaware of the regulations.
Either way, Manziel demonstrated incredible stupidity and lack of judgement. Not exactly the qualities you want to display prior to launching your career in the NFL, which is already smarting from recent negative incidents from the likes of Jovan Belcher, Dez Bryant, Josh Brent, Pacman Jones, Aaron Hernandez, etc. Manziel indeed is a special talent on the football field and may someday (perhaps sooner than anticipated) match or even exceed the early NFL success enjoyed by Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton or Russell Wilson. Then again, he may not. This latest news is a massive red flag for me, to say nothing of NFL front office personnel.
It’s true that all Heisman winners will forever be able to profit from their signatures to some extent. However, there is a large group of recent winners whose autographs have minimal value because they were NFL failures: Gino Torretta, Rashaan Salaam, Danny Wuerffel, Chris Weinke, Eric Crouch, Jason White, Matt Leinart, and Troy Smith. In 5 years or less, I wouldn’t be surprised if Manziel’s name is added to that list, which makes his current autograph prices massively inflated. If Manziel is declared ineligible and never plays another down for Texas A&M, the Aggie faithful will turn on him instantly (some have already). Then, if Manziel doesn’t succeed in the NFL, Johnny Football probably will be better known as Johnny Failure.
Yesterday I got involved in a brief e-mail exchange with PSA/DNA Consultant Authenticator Bob Zafian that shocked me. He contacted me about a certain prominent former government official whose autograph I have that Bob was interested in auctioning. As we discussed the potential value, I mentioned that I had only seen this person once at an unannounced appearance. In an attempt to downplay the value, Bob replied by saying that this official responds to mail autograph requests sent to their employer and book publisher.
I was stunned. Maybe I’m old school, but I believe it’s very dangerous for autograph dealers to sell autographs obtained through the mail (excluding arranged signings). I answered, “I never, ever sell an autograph obtained through the mail. Surprised that you do.” Zafian said, “Why is that?” I said, “Do you have any idea how many celebrities, politicians and sports stars use autopens? And if they use autopens, they use multiple templates. Almost undetectable to the naked eye.”
Zafian’s response: “Well I know a little bit about autographs. I know how to tell an autopen from a legitimate signature, it’s not that difficult if you know what you’re looking at. and I know how to investigate and research autographs.” I said, “If you say so. Your buddies at PSA/DNA are largely incompetent. They have ‘authenticated’ numerous autopens and laser reproductions.”
Sure enough, I just checked eBay, and as of today (August 21) there are 38 Gerald Ford autographs that are PSA/DNA “authenticated.” I wrote about this issue previously. I’ll bet that at least 30 of the 38 were signed by an autopen. Yes, including the baseballs and golf balls. So maybe Zafian needs to be promoted to Principal Authenticator if he’s really that good at spotting autopens. Because obviously PSA/DNA needs all the help it can get in this area. They are utterly incompetent.
It’s always a temptation to exaggerate the importance of one specific event. But Rory McIlroy running away with the 2012 PGA Championship by a record 8 shots should not be underestimated for its significance in the world of pro golf, or pro golf autographs for that matter.
McIlroy joins Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the third man to win his second major by age 23. Impressive company to say the least. Not only that, but McIlroy won both his majors in dominating, Tiger-esque fashion. We don’t know exactly what the future holds for McIlroy, but at the moment he is clearly the best young golfer in the world with perhaps another 20 years to craft a resume that might approach Nicklaus and Woods, who are probably the two best golfers in history, at least in the modern era.
What’s also notable about McIlroy is that increasing fame has seemingly failed to alter his personality or how he deals with fans or media. I had an up close and personal view of how Tiger changed immediately following his historic 1997 Masters win. The next month, Tiger played the Byron Nelson tournament outside Dallas, and he acted more arrogantly than any athlete I’ve seen before or since. One day after his round, he grabbed a Sports Illustrated from someone, scribbled his name on it while almost running to the clubhouse, and literally threw it up in the air behind him — obviously not caring if it got trampled by the crowd, much less whether the owner was able to retrieve it. Now, those circumstances were unique, and Tiger has matured considerably since then. But it seems that McIlroy at age 23 is better equipped to deal with fame than Tiger was at the same age.
Although I’ve had limited personal experiences with McIlroy, I’ve had friends report that he hasn’t changed his prolific signing habits much since winning the 2011 U.S. Open despite being mobbed by Tiger-sized crowds. McIlroy has been dating WTA Tour tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. Anything is possible, but it’s really hard to imagine McIlroy ever getting caught in an ugly sex scandal (especially now that Tiger has shown the world how damaging that can be).
Meanwhile, another four majors have come and gone, and Woods is still winless since the 2008 U.S. Open. His chances of catching Jack’s record of 18 major wins grows dimmer with each failure. At the moment McIlroy is a little bit better and a lot younger than Tiger, and he’s not going away. Only time will tell whether or not McIlroy will challenge Nicklaus and Woods for long term dominance in majors, but he certainly is headed in the right direction.