If the price is too good to be true, it is probably a fake.
If a company offers an autographed item well below competitors' prices and market value, then consumers should be wary. An example would include Michael Jordan basketballs, which some companies sell for as low as $150. Given Jordan's current exclusive contract with Upper Deck and difficulties associated with obtaining his autograph, the Tuff Stuff Magazine market value of an autographed Jordan Basketball is $500, while Upper Deck Michael Jordan autographed basketballs retail for up to $1,500. (Caution: a high price does not by any means suggest authenticity either.)
Certificates of authenticity are not guarantees of authenticity.
Individuals and companies involved with selling forged memorabilia often include a Certificate of Authenticity, allegedly from a third party expert. Often, the authenticator is either a knowing or unknowing, but incompetent, participant in the fraud. Carefully read the Certificate of Authenticity, looking for the authentication "language", an address, telephone number, and name of the authenticators. Do not accept copies of Certificates of Authenticity.
A photograph of an athlete or celebrity signing an autograph is no guarantee the item is authentic.
The Operation Bullpen investigation into forged sports memorabilia revealed that it is a common practice of forged memorabilia traffickers to include a photograph of the athlete/celebrity signing the item along with a Certificate of Authenticity. Traffickers also include photographs of themselves with the athlete/celebrity to lend credibility to their forged memorabilia.
An individual or company having a paid signing session with an athlete or celebrity is no guarantee of authenticity.
Operation Bullpen has revealed that is a common practice for forged memorabilia traffickers to "mix-in" forged memorabilia with items signed during an autograph session. For example, a company may pay to have an athlete sign 500 items. After the signing, the company will "mix-in" forgeries with the authentic autographs. The company also may continue to sell forged items after the authentic items have been sold claiming that they were from the autograph session.
The method of selling the memorabilia should not affect skepticism about the item's authenticity.
The Operation Bullpen investigation revealed that forged memorabilia traffickers sell their forgeries through a variety of methods that may lend credibility to the forgeries. One such sales method is through charity auctions in which the trafficker splits the profits with the charity. At charity auctions, buyers often overpay for items and do not question the authenticity of the memorabilia. Traffickers also sell forged items through trade publications, television shopping networks, trade shows, retail businesses, and the Internet.
Before purchasing autographed memorabilia, especially "vintage" or deceased athlete/celebrity memorabilia, ask questions about the history and circumstances relating to the autograph.
Be wary of far-fetched or elaborate stories that are difficult, if not impossible, to verify. Common false stories suggest connections to an athlete or "runners" employed to get autographs. Whenever possible, attempt to verify the history and circumstances of the autographed items before making the purchase.
If an individual is seeking an autograph of a current player, send a request for an autograph directly to the athlete's team.
Include a letter requesting that the enclosed item be autographed along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope or container. Only send photographs, cards, or baseballs. Large items such as bats and jerseys should not be sent directly to the athlete. In the letter requesting an autograph, request information relating to where you can purchase authentic autographed items if the athlete does not sign autographs through mailed requests. The athlete or the team may direct the buyer to a company that has an autograph contract with the athlete.
To counter the forged memorabilia problem, many athletes and celebrities are either creating their own autograph company or are signing exclusive contracts with specific sports memorabilia companies.
Dealing directly with the athlete's company or with an exclusive contract company will greatly reduce the likelihood of purchasing forged memorabilia.