An Open Letter to Mounted, Schwartz, Steiner, TriStar, UDA and Other Autographed Memorabilia Companies

Gentlemen,

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.

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Johnny Manziel Autographs Are a Horrible Investment

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.