95% Of Cast Autographed Movie Posters Are Fake

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.

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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.

A Guide to Avoiding Bootleg and Counterfeit NFL Football Jerseys

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

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.

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.

Plenty of Blame to Go Around for the Fake Autograph Market

Thousands, perhaps millions of people have been screwed by fake autograph sellers over the years. From buyers who spend their money on completely worthless signatures, to legitimate sellers like myself who have to compete with these criminals every day, all of us are victims.

I’ve been thinking about this lately and realized just how much blame there is to go around for this problem which never seems to get much better:

The forgers. Obviously, without the perpetrators themselves, this problem would not exist. These scumbags probably tell themselves that their crimes are victimless (false) and that they’ll never get caught (maybe true, maybe not).

Law enforcement agencies. Look, I get it. Fake autograph fraud isn’t as serious as terrorism or drug trafficking or bribery. But it’s still a crime and it’s a pretty big business. The FBI’s Operation Bullpen and follow-up Operation Foul Ball sting operations took place MORE THAN A DECADE AGO. Sorry, that doesn’t cut it. That sends a clear signal to forgers that the FBI doesn’t care, whether that’s true or not.

Third party authenticators. If you’ve read my blog, you know how I feel about these companies. James Spence (JSA) and PSA/DNA have good reputations that are entirely undeserved, in my opinion. Both companies are, at minimum, unacceptably sloppy and/or incompetent. Global Authenticated (GAI) is much worse — they appear to be corrupt to the core. It’s notable that the FBI didn’t bother enlisting any of these companies to assist in their investigations, which is why none of them are mentioned anywhere on their Bullpen or Foul Ball web pages. In fact, on the San Diego FBI’s Operation Bullpen page, it states, “The counterfeit market has been able to flourish because of the role played by authenticators who fraudulently (or mistakenly) certify forgeries as genuine signatures.” Third party authenticators like to claim they are part of the solution, but in fact they are part of the problem.

Marketplaces. The debut of eBay led directly to the growth of the autograph market, both legitimate and fake. eBay literally created thousands of new autograph dealers, many of whom were dishonest. It took eBay a long, long time to get a handle on this problem, and they made many missteps along the way. However, it’s clear that eBay now is very much aware and concerned about this problem and has removed countless fake autographs and fraudsters from its site. Are there still plenty of fakes on eBay? Yes, of course. But compare eBay’s aggressive actions in recent years to the blissful ignorance of Amazon, which has been notified many times about all the fakes on their site and hasn’t taken any action to the best of my knowledge. The same goes for all the smaller marketplaces.

Celebrities and their agents. If I’m a famous entertainer or sports star, I guess I have more important things to worry about than people faking my autograph. But it’s still stunning that while so many of them such as Andrew Luck care if their images are used inappropriately, they don’t seem to care that people are forging their autographs and making money selling them. Anthony Daniels, who played the droid C-3PO in all six Star Wars movies, is about the only celebrity I know who obviously DOES care. If the celebrity himself or herself is too busy, then his or her agent should consider getting involved in cracking down on forgeries.

Companies that do paid signings. When I was working for Beckett Publications about 20 years ago and still very naive and uneducated about autographs, we published a magazine about Michael Jordan and featured some items signed by him. Or so we thought. We got a call from Upper Deck Authenticated, which had an exclusive contract with MJ, complaining about us inadvertently showing fake Jordan autographs. UDA, more so than other companies that do paid signings, has been fairly aggressive about protecting their contracts by going after fakes, though not as much lately it seems. However, as far as I know, companies such as Ironclad, Mounted Memories, Steiner and TriStar Productions have done almost nothing about this problem in recent years even though they are arguably affected more than anyone. As the author of this article notes, the highly questionable Derek Jeter autographs “authenticated” by GAI are killing the market for real Jeter autographs certified by Steiner.

Customers. People who buy fake autographs and never realize it are not at fault. Your average person is fooled fairly easily and never discovers they’ve been had. However, sometimes customers who buy a fake later realize it, and often do nothing about it, or just pledge never to buy autographs ever again. That doesn’t help matters. What they should do is to file complaints with the FBI, their state’s attorney general, the Better Business Bureau and the marketplace (if applicable).

Dealers. I do my best to educate my customers on how to avoid being burned, but I know a lot of legitimate autograph dealers who don’t bother. I also know a lot of autograph dealers who rely exclusively on third party authenticators to back the authenticity of their autographs. That’s just plain irresponsible and lazy, especially considering how many mistakes these companies make. You’re the one selling the autograph, so it should be YOUR reputation that’s on the line, not some third party authentication company’s.

The problem with fake autographs will never completely go away, but it could be minimized if more people took action themselves instead of considering it to be someone else’s responsibility.

Why Amazon.com Is The Worst Place To Buy Autographs

New visitors to AutographsForSale.com may be surprised by my warnings about buying autographs from Amazon.com. After all, Amazon’s customer service is consistently ranked #1 among all shopping websites. So what’s the problem?

First, some buyers don’t understand that not every product listed on Amazon.com is sold by Amazon. Most are, but many aren’t. The ones that aren’t are sold by individuals or companies on the Amazon Marketplace, which is very similar to eBay.com. And Amazon Marketplace products are seamlessly mixed in with Amazon products — you have to really be paying attention to notice any difference.

Everyone knows that with eBay merchandise, it’s buyer beware. Ironically, eBay actually has become a safer place to buy autographs than Amazon. That’s because Amazon’s reputation makes people think that its Marketplace sellers must be screened by Amazon, or are somehow more legitimate than eBay sellers. This is completely FALSE.

Marketplace sellers are NOT screened by Amazon, and Amazon rarely if ever evaluates autographs on its site for authenticity. I am quite sure that Amazon doesn’t have a single employee who knows the first thing about autograph authenticity. In contrast, eBay has put programs, people and systems in place to evaluate questionable autographs. Not to say that all autographs on eBay are real, but countless sellers of fake autographs have been kicked off the site.

In some ways it’s actually EASIER to defraud customers on Amazon than eBay. If you buy on Amazon and have an a customer account, you can list almost anything for sale that you want, including autographs, provided that the product is already listed on Amazon.

Let’s say you see a LeBron James autographed basketball for sale on Amazon.com for $500. If you want to sell one, all you have to do is click on the “Have one to sell? Sell on Amazon” link button right underneath the “Add to Cart” and “Add to Wish List” buttons. You can then offer your basketball (whether real or not) for sale for whatever price you want, and you don’t even have to show a photo of it. All buyers see is the existing product’s photo(s).

You don’t have to be a genius to see how these “competitive listings,” as Amazon calls them, are ripe for fraud. This system may work OK for DVDs, but for autographs, it’s a disaster. I was recently interviewed by eCommerceBytes about this issue here. Now, if you DON’T see the item you want to sell listed on Amazon, all you have to do is get a Professional selling account for $39.99 per month. Then you can create and list as many new products as you want, including autographs — whether real or fake.

When asked about fraudulent sellers, Amazon always points to its A-to-z Guarantee program, which allows customers to file claims and get refunds if they are unsatisfied with what they receive. With fake autographs, the catch obviously is that for a customer to file an A-to-z claim, they have to be aware that they’ve bought a forgery.

In fact, human psychology is such that buyers of fake autographs have an incentive to disbelieve any suggestion that they’ve been taken. This especially applies when their purchase was made from a huge company like Amazon which has such a sterling worldwide reputation. And yet, I can assure you that hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars is spent every year on fake autographs on Amazon.com, probably sold by a relatively small number of crooked companies and individuals.

But don’t just take my word for it. Several veteran autograph collectors and dealers noticed numerous fake autographs on Amazon last month and posted their findings here. By the way, I had absolutely nothing to do with this, I just stumbled upon it last week.

I can only hope that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies eventually crack down on this serious criminal activity taking place on Amazon every day, because it’s hurting legitimate autograph dealers like myself and defrauding who knows how many unsuspecting customers.

Amazon Loses California Sales Tax Evasion Battle

It took the world’s 8th largest economy to defeat the USA’s largest tax evader.

If you’ve read my previous blog posts about Amazon.com, you already know this greedy company was built by Jeff Bezos on the premise of nationwide sales tax evasion. Other states, notably New York, disputed Amazon’s notion that it could legally avoid collecting sales tax. Amazon fought tooth and nail against New York and every other state that dared to demand Amazon collect sales tax, using lobbying, bribery and lawsuits to avoid doing so.

Finally, California — the world’s 8th largest economy — jumped into the battle with Amazon, and the outcome finally changed. Amazon tried its usual tactics by cutting off its California affiliates. Only problem with that strategy: as noted before, Amazon owns A9, Alexa and A2Z Development, three California companies with numerous offices and hundreds if not thousands of California employees, making the affiliate issue irrelevant.

Amazon fought long and hard against California’s new sales tax law, even using the state’s own system against it by spending over $5 million collecting signatures to put a proposition on the ballot. But the Democrats in the California legislature cleverly circumvented Amazon by crafting a revised law that, if passed by a 2/3 majority, would nullify Amazon’s proposition. Unfortunately, enough idiotic Republicans fell for Amazon’s anti-tax language smokescreen that a 2/3 majority was impossible to achieve.

But rather than face the uncertainty and massive expense of the ballot proposition, and realizing that it would probably lose any court challenge, Amazon decided to compromise. Governor Jerry Brown just signed the compromise law. Amazon will start collecting California sales tax one year from now, barring any new federal legislation that addresses the issue before then. Amazon can try to spin this, but they lost. California could be the first domino to fall as other states now realize that Amazon can be beaten (and how to do it).

A note to those idiotic Republicans: you cost your state $200 million in revenue that could have prevented library, park and school closings. Amazon tricked you into an unnecessary compromise. If you had any brains at all, you would have realized that Amazon was bluffing all along. All you had to do was vote for the revised law and Amazon would have started collecting sales tax immediately.

It’s painfully obvious that Republican politicians are so pre-programmed to vote against anything having to do with taxes that they often never bother to comprehend the actual issue at hand, which in this case was simply forcing Amazon to comply with existing sales tax laws like their competitors. Shame on them, and also shame on Amazon for evading sales tax collection for more than 10 years. At least in California, that evasion finally ends in 2013.