FORGERY ALERT - part 2
NEW NEWS FROM THE FBI:
By Associated Press, 08/26/02 BOSTON -- A Watertown woman was charged Monday with faking autographs of sports stars on photographs and other memorabilia items she sold. Ellen Weber, 62, faked, or had someone fake, the autographs of athletes such as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and kicker Adam Vinatieri, according to a federal complaint charging the woman with mail fraud. FBI agents searched Watertown-based Weber Collectibles on Monday. A man who identified himself as Weber's husband answering the phone at Weber's Watertown address said he was not aware of the charges. He said Weber was hospitalized and was not yet represented by an attorney. The investigation began after an employee at Weber's store noticed autographed photographs of Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant next to a marker and a piece of scrap paper filled with practice signatures, according to an affidavit filed with the complaint. The photos had arrived unsigned the previous day. During the investigation, a number of other professional football players, including the Pittsburgh Steelers' Jerome Bettis, the Minnesota Vikings' Randy Moss and the St. Louis Rams' Kurt Warner, told FBI agents that the autographs on memorabilia purchased at Weber's store were not their own. Weber will be summonsed to appear in federal court at a later date, although that date was not yet specified, said Samantha Martin, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan. If convicted Weber faces up to five years' in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Babe Ruth autograph study - Babe Ruth signatures dated 1948, in my opinion and in the opinion of many respected autograph dealers are mostly ghost signed, possibly by his wife, possibly by his sister. Here are two scans of legitimate Babe Ruth autographs signed in 1948. The letter is dated June, 1948, The Babe Ruth Story was published in 1948. Legitimate Ruth signatures from 1948 are quite rare. A sizeable percentage of his 1947 items were also ghost signed. Most people thought it was his wife signing for him, apparently his wife and/or sister and/or nurse signed for him.
It is the opinion of this writer and most autograph dealers in the hobby that the signature on the 1948 picture is not that of Babe Ruth but of one of his ghost signers. Compare it to the first two signatures and you can see the major differences.
Here is an e mail I have received, quoted exactly:
Dear Mr. Simon,
Recently I received an email from Susan B.... and subsequently she provided me with the URL to your website. Over the last month I have made purchases over eBay, including photos and/or scripts with COA's. A few were purchased for my daughter (who deals with intractable seizures) and the rest we had planned to donate to charity. We thought we might be able to get our local Epilepsy chapter to sponsor an internet silent auction with the benefits going to the Epilepsy Foundation 2000 Research Challenge. I can substantiate my daughter (and my own) involvement as our story (about being the Co-Chairs of 2000 Research Challenge) is on the EF web site at www.efa.org. After hearing from Susan - - and reading through the information on your web site I get a very queasy feeling that what started out as a very exciting idea to raise money for a very special charity has turned into someting very sad. Susan told me that at least one item that I purchased from -------------- is very probably a fake. Now I have to wonder about the other items I've purchased... I feel like everything is suspect now... All our efforts and the significant amount of money we can ill afford, may well have purchased trinkets of ignorance. Although it may be difficult for you to believe, some of us have absolutely NO IDEA what autographs cost. This is the first time I've purchased an item like this with a couple of exceptions and they were framed -so I assumed that a good part of that cost was for framing. Now I don't know if there IS a safe place to purchase signed items. How does a novice protect themselves from fakes and thieves? I'm very grateful for Susan's e mail and for the information you have shared on your website. I just wish everyone could read it BEFORE they buy an auction item. I'm not sure where to go from here.... I will not donate items to charity if there is even a slim chance that they are fake. I do know that I've made my last bid on eBay! I'll honor whatever bids are still out there because I made a commitment but it'll be a very long time if ever that I place another bid on that site. Again, Thank you so much for the information you've shared. I just wish I'd known four weeks ago.. Mary L...
The Upper Deck Company has filed civil lawsuits against a pair of convicted forgers, Robert Austin and Steve Berg. The pair had been busted in 1996 as part of the FBI's Operation Foul Ball investigation. They are now facing criminal and civil penalties as a result of their activities. FORGERS ALERT - this is what you can now expect as a result of your activities, jail time and your money taken away.
If you do get stuck with bogus autographs or a bogus authentication:
if you ever have to go to court with a dealer or authenticator to try to get your money back, remember a wonderful legal term, DISCOVERY, it means you can get the information you need to prove your case, ask the dealer for proof of where he buys his items. Ask him for invoices, bills, cancelled checks, you can get anything and everything you need, you can make him open up all his records. See if he has cancelled checks made out to any of the 20 guilty ring members. See if he has invoices to or from those guilty ring members. Hit him with this discovery motion immediately. You are entitled to all the information that you need. You can ask him for proof of where he gets his autographs. You are entitled to this BY LAW. If it is an ebay seller who won't give you a refund, I suggest you download his past two weeks auctions.
If its an authenticator, ask to see who he has billed for his services. Any forgery ring members?? A dealer MUST tell you who he buys his items from. An authenticator must tell you whose autographs he has authenticated. He has to tell the number of autographs he has rejected. I would venture to guess that the number on that is very, very low with certain authenticators. DISCOVERY is the way to nail these people. SEE IF SOME OF THE INDICTED FORGERS ARE ON THE PAPERS HE HAS TO SHOW YOU. Get him to open up his whole business to you. Do you think he wants to do that? I don't think so. You might get information that even the FBI cannot get to help you prove your case. Than turn the information over to the FBI.
This story is too funny to pass up, misspelled forgeries, a seller of movie star autographs had a Marlon Brando autographed photo on ebay. Only problem was it was signed "Marlin Brando". Think Marlon knows how to spell his name? Maybe they were thinking of the line from The Godfather about sleeping with the fishes. Ebay removed it, though it did have a COA, from some unknown authenticator.
MORE EBAY WARNINGS
I see things on ebay that you don't see in the real autograph world. Refusal of refunds by a seller when a legitimate source questions an autograph that was sold. LIFETIME GUARANTEES of authenticity are the norm in the real autograph world, but not on ebay. Pictures of items that are not the actual item being sold and a total lack of provenance on many items and the unwillingness of sellers to supply provenance. The shifting of refund responsibility to an insurance company. You have to prove to the insurance company that the autograph is not good. How are you going to do that?? In the normal autograph world a questioned autograph is given a refund. Period. No questions or battles with dealers. The normal autograph dealer world DOES NOT WORK LIKE EBAY!! Ebay autograph sellers have made up their own rules. You cannot question what they sell. They won't issue refunds on questioned autographs. The autograph hobby thrived for 150 years without examiners and ebay. DON'T LET THOSE SELLERS SUCKER YOU. They are laughing at the buyer now, right up to the minute the FBI knocks on their door. And the FBI is still going to be knocking on more doors, ask Stan Fitzgerald how it felt, ask Smokey's how it felt to be exposed on national television. IF YOU MUST BUY ON EBAY, INSIST ON A LIFETIME GUARANTEE IN WRITING BEFORE YOU SEND THE SELLER YOUR MONEY.
NOW HEAR THIS: I am offering a $2900 REWARD for information leading to the conviction of anyone who has forged the COA of any authenticator. A COA of mine was forged years ago. I will pay a $3500 REWARD for information leading to the conviction of a forger of my COA. Richard Galasso an authenticator in NJ had his COA forged. He found the forger and had him convicted. It can be done.
The FBI went undercover for over 2 years and raided over 60 establishments. The Federal government does not undertake this type of operation unless millions of dollars have been stolen. According to the Newark Star Ledger the FBI has incriminating wiretaps, tapes and eye witness informants ready to go on the record. Here is a quote from the Newark Star Ledger: "With the help of cooperating witnesses, the undercover FBI agent also made tape recordings of HUNDREDS of incriminating conversations with dealers, including one in which a retail dealer saw nothing unusual about ordering huge quantities of autographed balls for his own customers: 360 Roger Maris balls, 240 balls signed by Satchel Paige, and another 240 bearing the signature of Thurman Munson". Wonder if that big order of balls wound up on ebay? Silly question. Where else could it have wound up? I guess the obituaries of Munson and Paige were premature.
Steve Ryan, pled guilty on March 22 to selling items bearing forged autographs of Michael Jordan and others. Ryan, 42, admitted he had been selling forged sports items throughout the nation from 1994 until October, 1999. HE ALSO WILL HELP PROSECUTORS WITH OPERATION FOUL BALL, which has snared others in sales of phony memorabilia. Rumor has it he will get at least one year in prison.
MOST INTERNET AUTOGRAPH AUCTIONS ARE CESSPOOLS. Ruth, Gehrig, Mathewson, Cobb, day in and day out. The best auction houses in the country (they can sell legit items of these players for 1000% more than ebay prices!) cannot find these items in this quantity. Ask yourself why the sellers are giving these items away? Ask yourself why the major auction houses in NYC and the leading sports hobby auctioneers do not have these items in that quantity? I have recently seen on ebay two balls for sale of a very rare HOFer. Two balls of his appearing in the same week! I don't think I have seen two in 17 years in the hobby. He died in the 1920's.Now I just saw a third and fourth ball of this rare HOFer on ebay. No wonder the FBI spent two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars investigating this business.
EBAY ACKNOWLEDGES FAKES!!! AND "CAN'T GUARANTEE ANYTHING" In the January, 2000 issue of eBay magazine, staff writers and eBay officials have acknowledged authenticity problems with items sold on their site and others. The article says that eBay and other online auctions are prime targets for hawkers of forged memorabilia for several reasons, including the fact that "It's new and unfamiliar with the industry" and "many of its collectors are new and unfamiliar with autographs." Think what this means. Ebay is admitting they know there are forgeries being sold on their site. Think about this. They admit it but do very little about it. WHY WON'T THEY AT LEAST STOP THE PRIVATE AUCTIONS??
Reprinted with permission of Odyssey Publications.
THE FEDS ARE TAKING ACTION - - According to the Newark Star Ledger, Oct 14, the FBI has raided more than 50 locations, yesterday, as part of an ongoing investigation into the sale of counterfeit sports memorabilia. The raids were nationwide. Investigators from the FBI and the IRS seized numerous items. According to the article, Stan's Sports, in West Caldwell, NJ had his premises searched. FBI agents were seen carting out boxes of merchandise from his location and placing the boxes in a U Haul. The 20/20 TV show has also identified Smokey's in Las Vegas as being raided and all their autograph material was seized. There were scenes on the TV show, showing the FBI carting away their autograph merchandise. Arrests have not yet been made. Others have not yet been identified. According to the article, many of the questionable items had been sold in Internet auctions and other venues.
The UACC (Universal Autograph Collectors Club) conducted two ebay surveys in Nov, 1999 and Jan, 2000. 100 random illustrated items, from 100 different sellers, were picked in each survey by the most experienced dealers in the country. 80 were deemed bogus during the first survey, 85 for the second survey. 54 of these 200 items had Certificates of Authenticity from Third Party Authenticators. One of the 54 was deemed authentic. THINK about those numbers before you ever bid on ebay. Especially if you are a novice autograph collector.
A dealer I know showed me a group of cuts, with COA's from one of the handwriting experts. They were sent to him by one of his clients, who himself eventually realized, that he had been scammed, and could not get his money back from the dealer. The President of Collectors Universe, (PSA) David Hall, came over to my table, showing me one of the cuts, a Walter Johnson, and placed it on my table next to a signed check of Walter Johnson. He jovially laughed as he said: "Richard, I am no autograph expert at all, but even I can tell this one is not good". They were all "authenticated" by a widely used handwriting expert. I am hoping at some point to illustrate them on this page, along with the authentic signatures of the player. You can than be the judge. Remember they were "authenticated" by a handwriting expert.
CHICAGO (Feb 12, 1997 - 19:48 EST) -- Federal prosecutors filed mail fraud charges Wednesday against six people accused of helping a Chicago sports dealer distribute forged collectibles. U.S. Attorney Burns said the ring was masterminded by Anthony Alyinovich, who pled guilty to mail fraud in July and has cooperated with authorities.
READ HERE!!!!Sometimes, Burns said, Alyinovich would arrange for two unidentified "handwriting experts" to provide "certificates of authenticity" for items before sending them along to reputable distributors. Imagine that "handwriting experts" writing COA's for a convicted felon! I AM SHOCKED! How could this have happened? Another mistake I am sure.
OPERATION FOUL BALL DEFENDANT SENTENCED - Robert Austin, formerly of Overtime ProWear of California, has been sentenced to 30 MONTHS IN PRISON, 36 months probation and was ordered to pay $188,000 in restitution, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Ted Chung. Austin was involved in knowingly selling forged Michael Jordan items. Chung said "We're going to send out a letter to individual, identifiable victims of Mr. Austin. We have received invoices. Those people whose addresses are still correct will receive information. They will be required to submit receipts and submit the forged items....my suspicion are that their avenue for recovery will be civil and not criminal." Victims with sufficient information should call Operation Foul Ball at 312-986-6509.
General Warning Signs in the Autograph Market - things to beware of:
- Autographs on Internet Auction sites - in general any survey ever undertaken by the UACC has shown that 90% of autographs being offered on Internet auction sites are questionable. If you have been a regular buyer of autographs on Internet auction sites then you probably have been victimized.
- Sinclair Oil Contest Balls "signed" by Babe Ruth, I have never seen a good one, in my opinion, they were all signed by secretaries.
- 1940 NY Worlds Fair certificates and Laurel cards "signed" by Lou Gehrig, I have never seen an authentic one, in my opinion, they were all signed by secretaries.
- Ty Cobb letters with great content - many were forged by a well known individual, who had access to Ty Cobb personally and blank Cobb stationery, and than they were sold into the marketplace by a very well known dealer. They still surface in the marketplace today. Honest, experienced dealers and collectors know how to tell the difference.
- Signed vintage photos with white out on the back of the photo. If you rub off the white out, you can see "Property of Baseball Hall of Fame" on the back of these photos, which were stolen from the Hall of Fame and sold to unsuspecting collectors by a very well known dealer. The NY Daily News on August 20,2000 had a major story on this event, detailing where items wound up and how they got into the marketplace. Hope you take the time to read this story. It is a shocker. There is a link to the story on the first page of my forgery alert. I have talked to an eyewitness to the theft and three other individuals who purchased photos from this very well known dealer. All these photos had white out on the back, which when rubbed away revealed the stamp of the Hall of Fame. The dealer is still very active and well known. Read the story. The Hall of Fame covered up the incident because they did not want adverse publicity and the dealer, of course, denies any involvement.
- Yankee team balls from 1938 and 1939, many have clubhouse Lou Gehrig and Lefty Gomez signatures.
- Yankee team balls from the late 1920's, many have clubhouse signatures of Babe Ruth.
- Black and white Hall of Fame plaks in gem mint condition, these were forged in massive quantities about 15 years ago, sold into the marketplace by a very well known dealer and still surface in the market place today.
- Jimmie Foxx rubber stamp "signature" on the back of gold Hall of Fame plaks.
- Single Signed Balls - while they are certainly available in the marketplace, they are overwhelmingly plentiful on ebay. There are just not that many of them out there. Especially Chance, Mathewson, Gehrig and other very rare signatures.
- Check the spelling of the name of the autograph that you are buying. I have seen misspelled forgeries on ebay. The forgers are not near as bright as they would like to think.
- No autograph refunds or a few days opportunity for refunds are not the norm in the autograph world. BE LEERY OF DEALERS WHO DO NOT OFFER LIFETIME GUARANTEES on autographs.
- I have seen ebay dealers who scream that dealer-authenticators cannot authenticate from a scan, than they give their buyer 2 days to check out an autograph. If that is not a warning sign, I don't know what is.
- Ebay autographs in general. Every UACC survey has shown that 9 out of 10 autographs on ebay are questionable. I don't mean to discourage collectors from buying on ebay, but if you are a novice collector, AVOID EBAY AT ALL COSTS. You will get burnt. Don't use feedback as a guide. On ebay autograph feedback is meaningless. There are honest dealers on ebay, I sell there myself, but if you are new to the hobby or inexperienced at detecting forgeries, don't even think of buying unless you get some real expert advice. Read the first page again, reread what the FBI has said about letters of authenticity and the price being too good to be true.
- Try to buy from dealers that are a member of a professional organization. UACC Registered Dealers and IADA Dealers have to adhere to a Code of Ethics and stand by their LIFETIME GUARANTEES on every item they sell. Compare that to the dealers on ebay and non UACC dealers selling autographs. Very few ebay dealers are UACC Registered Dealers and those ebay dealers make up their own rules about the autograph market that nobody follows but themselves. Don't allow them to force those rules on you. You should insist on lifetime guarantees for any item you buy. That is the norm in the autograph world. There is a reason they won't offer lifetime guarantees. Think about it.
- Be especially leery of private auctions on ebay. Why are these auctions being kept private? Even ebay states on their website: "Please don't use this unless you have a specific reason". Ebay states this to their sellers, but still allows the private auctions to continue. WHY? There is no good specific reason for them to allow this. The sellers don't want the bidders to be contacted via e mail. That is the only reason they use private auctions. They will tell you some other crap, but think about the real reason.
- Many ebay sellers are claiming that only "handwriting examiners" are qualified to determine the authenticity of an autograph in court. This is pure hyperbole on their part. I have talked to major attorneys in NY who dispute that claim in its entirety. The issue has NEVER been decided in court. I have testified in a criminal trial and been declared an EXPERT WITNESS in autographs by a NY State judge, based on my experience as an autograph dealer. Read the following letter:
- There is a dealer who has fallen very far from the top of the pecking order, now ranking about 20th or so, if that, and he has barred me from his auctions, because I had the audacity to return a ghost signed autograph, which he refused to send me a copy of in the first place. He tried to sell a Jean Harlow "mother" signed autograph as the real thing, his knowledge of autographs is virtually zilch and is colored by his vision for the green dollar, and he is a big advertiser. He will buy your collection and than palm it off on other dealers. Don't be intimidated by him. You can sell your items for a better price to many other dealers. The vast majority of what he buys is resold to other dealers.
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CLICK this link, return to home page of Richard Simon Sports.
CLICK this link, view price lists of baseball autographs.
CLICK for information about getting autographs authenticated.
Click to read some pages from the indictment of Greg Marino, the major forger in California, who is now in Federal prison. There is a lot of interesting information here.