PSA Security: A Buyer's Guide

PSA Security a Buyers Guide - Lighthouse Label

Since 1991, PSA has utilized a tamper-evident holder to encapsulate collectibles such as trading cards, tickets, autographs, etc. It is the same holder technology used by the leading coin grading service – PCGS.

While the PSA brand and holder have helped provide peace of mind to both buyers and sellers, there are unscrupulous individuals who attempt to either counterfeit or tamper with our products. It is no different than in the worlds of high-end watches, designer bags or even currency. Where there is money to be made, criminals will follow. Since the PSA brand is so strong, much like names such as Rolex or Louis Vuitton are in other markets; our company has, unfortunately, been the target of such acts.

Over time and in response, PSA has implemented new and improved security features for items certified by our company. These features include, but are not limited to, everything from embedded hologram technology used on our PSA/DNA COAs and LOAs for autographs and memorabilia to completely enhanced tamper-evident holders used to encapsulate trading cards. This is just a sampling of some of the overt security tools utilized at PSA in addition to the covert features used to combat potential fraud.

The following are some tips on ways to potentially reduce the risk of being victimized by counterfeiters and con artists.

As stated earlier, the PSA holder is tamper-evident as a result of the sonic weld that seals the two parts of the PSA holder together. This is, of course, not the same thing as tamper-proof, which would mean the holder could not be violated at all. For a number of reasons, it is important that the holder is not actually tamper-proof. For example, if the outside of the PSA holder is scratched or damaged in some way, it must be possible to safely remove the contents so a re-holder service can be performed without harming the collectible inside.

Tamper-evident means that if someone does attempt to violate the holder, it will leave some evidence that the holder has been compromised. There are different ways that the holder will show evidence of such tampering.

One way the PSA holder may show tampering is what is commonly referred to as "frosting" along the edges where the clear plastic starts to exhibit a cloudy appearance. In some cases, you can actually see minor fractures or cracks in the plastic as a result of the violation. This occurs when the sonic weld is broken and can be seen in various degrees.

Another way the PSA holder may show tampering is the feel of the plastic itself. Prior to the pieces of the PSA holder being welded together, the plastic is mildly flexible. Once the sonic weld takes place, the strength of the weld creates a very firm, virtually inflexible bond between the pieces of the holder. On the other hand, once the sonic weld is broken (as a result of tampering) the plastic becomes more flexible again.

In some cases, a person will attempt to glue the holder back together to make it appear as if the holder is original. No matter how much glue they use, the sonic weld is still broken, allowing the plastic to once again become somewhat flexible. In fact, with pressure applied along the edge with something as simple as a fingernail, the holder may often start to make a cracking noise and pop open. In many cases, the holder requires no pressure at all as one or more of the edges are already open.

Another possible telltale sign of a counterfeit PSA-certified item has to do with the label found at the top of the holder. If you hold an authentic PSA-certified item up to a light at close range, looking from the back of the label to the front or the front of the label to the back, you should be able to see through the label enough to decipher the text on the other side. You may not be able to read it word for word, but the label on the opposite side will be visible.

Sometimes, a forger may attempt to simply add a fake front to a real PSA label. In turn, an extra layer of paper is used. As a result, if you attempt to do what we just described above while using a lamp or strong light, you will not be able to see through it. In essence, the label is now too thick to see the opposing side of the label. By utilizing this technique, you may also be able to see portions of the authentic label underneath, which may now be covered by the fake label on top. This is not always the case with forgeries, but it is an example of what some criminals will attempt to do and another way to avoid fraud. Furthermore, while the embedded hologram technology on the current PSA label acts as a deterrent, some forgers will try this technique by attempting to replicate an older style PSA label.

In 2017, PSA once again enhanced the security features found on our products. This time, the focus was on the label found inside the PSA holder. Not only does this label exhibit new security properties, it also underwent a stylistic, branding makeover. By clicking here, you can view a summary of the details on a page devoted to this innovative label or watch the short video featured at the top of this page. This information should help hobbyists gain a better understanding of how those features work and provide comprehensive visuals so collectors will know what to look for.

What may seem like a very basic approach is the importance of knowing the seller. It is not uncommon for collectibles to be valued at five, six or even seven-figure levels in some cases. If you were buying a watch for $5,000, would you purchase it from a company or someone you didn't recognize or know? If not, the first prudent step would be asking for good references. The same approach should be used in the collectibles market. It is imperative that you find a reputable dealer or auction house to buy from. Remember, it is your money.

As time goes on and the market continues to evolve, values for high-end items tend to escalate. In some cases, the escalation is dramatic which can invite more fraud. If you have any concern about an alleged PSA-certified item prior to purchase, you are welcome to contact us and arrange for that item to be reviewed. If a seller is confident in the product they are offering, they should have no problem sending the item to PSA. It's your money. There is nothing wrong with asking a seller to make a deal contingent on PSA's confirmation. If the seller does hesitate whatsoever, you may have your answer already.

If you are directly solicited by a person or company with whom you have no prior dealings or relationship, you should approach the offer with caution, particularly if such an offer is coupled with a deal that seems too good to be true. These are warning signs. Ironically, the lure of a quick profit often overrides one's common sense. Don't let this happen to you.

These are just some basic reminders and suggestions of how to avoid buying items that are purported to be PSA-authenticated or graded but, in reality, are not. A few precautionary measures can help protect you from buying fraudulent items and enhance your overall collecting experience. If you have any suspicions whatsoever, take a day or two to consider your decision and consult with colleagues or trusted advisors.