Have you been scratching your head every time you see a new $20 bill?
I remember hearing the government brag about coming out with these new $20, $50 and $100 bills, saying how the new design would prevent counterfeiting. Then I turned on the evening news to see how counterfeit $20 bills were discovered at a local high school. With the aid of a computer, the culprits were able to duplicate the bills to the point where they were unrecognizable to the eye as counterfeits.
Why would I be talking about fake $20 bills in an autograph column? Because many collectors today have been ripped off through a similar fraudulent scheme.
It's called a Certificate of Authenticity.
A Certificate of Authenticity accompanies many of the autographs that collectors purchase from dealers. It states how the athlete signed the piece of memorabilia, and that the dealer they will give you a 100% refund if you believe the item is fake. For some reason, many hobbyists consider this certificate to be as good as gold.
Anyone can create a certificate of authenticity without much difficulty, by using a computer, a scanner, and an ink pen to sign it.
Nine times out of ten, if someone offers you 100% of your money back, you aren't going to return it because, "If the dealer is offering me a full refund, it must be real."
Don't get stuck in this pitfall.
As you might not have the opportunity to witness the signature for every autograph in your collection, I will provide a couple of tips to assist you in acquiring a signature without doubting its authenticity.
- Certified companies. Purchase autographed memorabilia/card redemptions. Upper Deck, SkyBox and Collector's Edge (to name a few) offer memorabilia/autograph redemptions in their packs. By sending in a redemption direct to these larger reputable companies, you can be assured of getting a real autographed item in return. BE CAREFUL of buying Upper Deck and Score Board memorabilia, as fake certificates do exist (especially in Score Board products). Upper Deck does allow you to verify the holograms by calling their customer service number.
- Mail order from a show signing. Show promoters offer a mail order service for autographs. If a signer is attending the show, you can feel pretty confident that your item is genuine. Some dealers include: Grand Slam Memorabilia, and Great Moments, which offer pictures and a certificate of authenticity with the item you purchase.
- Super Star Greetings and Total Sports Concepts. These companies have become the leaders in COAs. Super Star Greetings' items come with a COA signed by the athlete, a hologram, and a picture of the athlete signing the item. Total Sports Concepts has become the innovator in COAs with their "driver's license" COA, which has a picture of the item and the athlete signing it on the front, with the "owner's name" on the top. This process also allows for transfer between owners, and has signed names like Sammy Sosa and Ricky Williams.
If you do choose to go through another party when purchasing autographs, make sure you research the dealer. Check out other autographs from the same player by going onto Collectors Universe or other websites. Trust me... you will see many differences in autographs, but you will learn to see the fakes as I have.