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Revised April 2016.
The following article was written and published on ebay some years ago by myself, and was been read by over 90,000 people on ebay alone! It is a fairly long guide, but it become the NUMBER ONE autograph guide on eBay for a good reason, so you may find it more convenient to simply print it off for use later. We think you will find it an invaluable reference if you keep it by your computer, and i can guarantee that it will save you money!
Unfortunately, ebay decided that this guide infringed ebay policies, and it has now removed it! I think what they meant was, it warned too many people about the problems of buying on ebay! If they only spent as much time removing the sometimes very obvious fraudsters from the site, and stopped creating more and more rules for sellers and obstacles for buyers, then perhaps they would have a site that would do more business and have many more satisfied customers, but then when have ebay ever listened to their customers?
Interested in autographs? then i believe this guide will help you avoid the very many sellers of fake Autographs on eBay and elsewhere. I have been selling autographs on ebay as AUTOGRAFICA since 1999 (that is before ebay.co.uk was even around!), and elsewhere since the early 1990's and have sold over 100,000 items on ebay alone. I was voted UACC dealer of the year in 2000, AFTAL dealer of the year in 2011 and won the UACC Presidents Quality Award in 2006 and have been buying and selling autographs for over 20 years. I also attended the very first ebay University here in the UK, and was even trained by ebay as an ebay Education Specialist, and have given tuition to dozens of people on ebay to both buy and sell, and expand their business, so when it comes to ebay and autographs i believe i know what i am talking about!
COA's. Just in case you are one of those who are only going to read the first few paragraph's, here are the facts on COA's.
A COA in itself does not prove or confirm that an item is authentic, an item is either real or its not, and no amount of paperwork can make a fake item authentic. The sellers of fakes on eBay will provide you with a COA if that is what will make you buy it. Indeed, they will even create a nice story to help it along, or find some images of a signing on Google to add to the 'provenance' of the fake items they sell.
But if its fake, then its fake, and it will always be fake! Check any COA for the sellers full contact details, indeed, does it even have any? is it only an eBay ID and an email address? Yes? then you probably have a fake as very few genuine dealers would leave these details off. Is the COA issued by the seller? no? then it is probably very little use, as the third party issuer certainly won't refund your money if it turns out to be no good! COA's are only as good as the person who issued it, and if they are not around, or can't be found, then its just a worthless piece of paper!
As a full time autograph dealer for over 25 years (UACC Reg Dealer 179 and AFTAL dealer 002), I have been selling on eBay and elsewhere under the AUTOGRAFICA name for over 15 years (i know of only one other dealer who has been on the site for longer!). I have been the UACC ethics board member for the UK and Vice Chairman of AFTAL, work with both Trading Standards and the Police on fraud cases, have written a number of articles on fakes and how to avoid them, advised TV's ' The Real Hustle' and 'Inside Out' as well as 'Fake Britain' 'Pawn Stars UK' and 'Posh Pawn'. I also ran the 'Autographica' and UACC events in London, although i sold my share in that part of the business some years ago. So to help you avoid the forgers on ebay I have come up with these 'Golden Rules' ignore them at your peril!
Spotting fakes is a very difficult task that requires many years of experience, however, spotting the sellers of fakes is much easier, and this is what you should concentrate on.
Remember this. It is the provenance of the seller you should always check, and ignore the provenance regarding the item itself. In other words, prove the seller to be genuine first, rather than the item. Ask around about the seller (but don't ask them!), do they only sell on ebay? what do other well known dealers think of them etc? With just a little time on Google, any seller can make up a some great provenance for any old thing that he creates, so prove the seller to be genuine first. And ignore his stories about how he knows all the stars, has contacts within a club, or only buys from AFTAL or UACC dealers, its normally all just clap trap! There is one seller on ebay right now that claims to be a leading light in the "in person" autograph collecting field, but ask any of the well known in person autograph collectors, and they will all tell you they have never heard of him!
Always read the full eBay listing at least twice and be sure to check all feedback etc as detailed below, check out the seller as much as you can and ask other known dealers about any seller you may do business with. Don't take risks with your money, if an item seems too good to be true, then you can be pretty damn sure that its a fake, if in doubt, then don't! Many sellers use some very clever wording to suggest that the item is genuinely signed, when i fact its simply a copy of the original. Check the category its listed in, read the wording carefuly and check the feedback, others may have spotted the truth!
Never never buy anything from any seller who uses the PRIVATE option (Private Feedback or Private bidding), unless you are a very very very experienced eBayer! Check the bottom of the listing (left hand side) for this, and check the feedback too, if the feedback does not show what other items the seller has sold then they are using the PRIVATE option, my advice then is to simply avoid them, as they are very probably hiding something.
There is not one single good reason why any legitimate seller would use either of these PRIVATE options, the UACC and AFTAL have banned it, and so should eBay. Don’t fall for the sellers old tosh about protecting your privacy, it’s their privacy they are concerned with not yours! Fall for this one, and its odds on that you will be buying fakes, forgeries or just plain rubbish.
The PRIVATE bidding option prevents you (the buyer) from finding out what they (the seller) has previously sold, it prevents other eBay members from warning you about their fakes or scams, and worst of all, it allows the seller to bid against you without you knowing! (yes that’s right, a seller using the PRIVATE auction option is able to bid on their own auctions and push up the final price without you knowing!
Now if that is not cheating, I don’t know what is. So always look out for the PRIVATE auction warning at the bottom of every ebay listing, and if you see it, avoid it. You will often find these sellers have changed the ID many times too, just click on their feedback number and then click ID History to check. They change their name normally because they have had some bad press somewhere (such as on the isitreal.com) and so change it to try and hide. You will find some sellers change their id multiple times a year, i wonder why!
If you want the full lowdown on all of the tricks that sellers pull when selling crap on ebay, then i suggest you buy this book "Fakes, Forgery, Lies and ebay" The book will cost you just a few £'s and is a true story about a seller who got sucked into a scam selling fakes on ebay, its very accurate and will make anyone who reads it aware of just how easy it is to operate this scam on ebay, and the worst part is that ebay have not made any changes that prevent the same thing from happening again!
Always pay for items using PayPal, if you don’t have an account then open one, worst case pay using your credit card. That way if anything goes wrong you should get your money back, and in the case of PayPal it is a very easy thing to do. If the seller does not or will not accept either, and you have any doubts about the seller, then don’t bid. If the seller wants you to pay in cash or Via Western Union or similar, and won't accept Paypal or a credit card then run away. I know PayPal can be a pain, and they are not perfect, but its still by far the best way to pay for anything on eBay, certainly far safer than a cheque or Postal orders! Asking for Payment via Cash or Western Union is against eBay UK rules too, so avoid these sellers.
Always check the location of the seller. On the top right in the Sellers Information Box, it tells you where the seller is registered, does this tie in with what it says next to Item Location? Does it have any location stated at all? If it says ‘Fastest shipper on ebay’ or similar where it should say the location, i would be very carefull, (trying to hide the location is actually against eBay rules).
Please be aware that there are now a growing number of forgers who are in a different country to which they are selling in. The reason is simply because you as the buyer are much less likely to be able to do anything about it. There are also known forgers operating from some of the eastern countries too (east of me that is!), Poland, Romania, Russia etc. Also consider this, why is a man in Belgium, Spain, Greece, Italy, Cyprus, Australia or even Singapore! selling David Beckham etc signed items which he claims to have got in person!
Unless you can be 100% certain, stay away from sellers in far off lands, chances are you will also end up being stung for import duty on fake items from a seller you will never get a refund from. We have reports of a man in Italy selling signed football covers. He shows the real thing, but sends you a forgery, and he bids up his own auctions too. The signs are there in his auctions, but can you see them? Avoid this seller at all cost. So if you see a seller in Italy offering signed Bobby Moore covers or related football items, stay away or you will probably lose out.
Always check to see what other items the seller has sold in the past 30 days, if they have sold more of the same Elvis signed photos etc (or similar difficult to find items), then avoid them. To check their sales go to 'Advanced Search' then 'Search by Seller' and remember to click on 'Include Completed Listings'. Ebay will then give you a full list of all the items the seller has sold in the last 15 days.
Only recently i found a seller offering a 'rare' signed copy of a Harry Potter book, but failed to mention the 15 others they had sold in the past few weeks! An even better way to check sellers sold items is to use 'Goofbid' they can give you lists of sold items, negative feedback, its both free and very easy to use.
Always check the feedback. Every dealer, even good ones get some negative occasionally, you can’t please everyone. But some dealers have a huge amount of negative, often warning others about the fakes they sell etc, but still people bid on their items. Take a good look at the sellers feedback history, go back a good few pages, see what sort of feedback they give buyers too, see if you can see any kind of patterns. Again try Goofbid, it makes it a lot easier. And it should be noted that most buyers no longer leave feedback at all, i estimate that only 2 in 10 now leave any feedback good or bad, as most see it as not worth the effort.
You may be able to check who they are buying from ‘See Feedback from Sellers’ this can show you where they are buying from, and in some cases you can then easily see they are buying fakes and reselling them.
Look out also for negative comments left as a positive. Buyers are often concerned about leaving a negative feedback, so instead leave a negative comment as a positive feedback. All positive feedback is not always positive comment! And remember, that just because a seller has 1000+ positive feedbacks he need not be a really good seller!
Buyers leave feedback based mainly on fast delivery of the goods, and buyers bid on fake items in the first place because they believe they are genuine, otherwise they would not have bid in the first place! So feedback generally means nothing.
Avoid, or at the very least check out, the sellers who make excessive claims as to where they obtain their stock from etc. ‘I have worked in the music business for 30 years’ ‘item comes with an impeccable references from someone in the film industry’ ‘I buy my items from UACC or AFTAL dealers and other registered sources’ (neither the UACC or AFTAL allow anyone to make this claim unless they state EXACTLY who they purchased from.
Both the UACC and AFTAL have the ability to remove any listing from eBay. Unless you already have considerable experience, then only buy from dealers who are actually members of AFTAL, the UACC Registered Dealer program, or PADA (and can prove it) any other membership is virtually worthless, and be careful, anyone can join the UACC or the Manuscript Society, they are after all clubs for autograph collectors, but you have to be a little special to become a UACC or AFTAL dealer.
UACC dealers who are part of the Registered Dealer Program have been members for 3 years or more, and have proved they know what they are talking about, they have provided both references from other known dealers, and their stock has been checked on a regular basis by other dealers.
There are very few genuine dealers who are not UACC members, but there are many unscrupulous sellers who make the claim that being a member of the UACC proves nothing and so refuse to join. The truth is that some of these 'sellers' have been refused membership or have already been thrown out! Again, its the provenance of the seller you need check, not the provenance of the item! Ask others about any dealer that has something you want. You will find that UACC RD's and AFTAL dealers are more than happy to give opinions on most items or dealers. The last thing they want is for you to be buying fakes.
Be also aware of sellers who have made up their own 'Autograph Association' The International Autograph Federation, the Universal Autograph Collectors Association etc are just made up names to try and impress buyers, but they don't actually exist or have any members!
If the seller has Madonna, Churchill, Elvis, etc all listed at the same time, and below their true market value, then they are likely to be fake, so you know what to do! Avoid them. A real Madonna is a very rare thing indeed (ask any genuine dealer!), Elvis will cost you £700 plus minimum, and a simple signature of Churchill would set you back around £700 upwards, so forget about that £50 signed colour photo with loads of provenance that looks a bargain! If the items are genuine, and the seller claims to know so much about autographs, then why is he offering them for sale at such a low price on eBay and not Christies or Sotheby's etc, where he would get a far higher price? If in any doubt use my 'quick opinion' service to find out what is real or not.
Most of the forgers tend to concentrate on the current big names, so whatever the latest big film or TV show is, then they will probably have a stack of stuff available, and often at a low start price too.
Forget about any COA, an item is either real or its fake, and no amount of classy COA with triple holograms, a wax seal, fancy ribbon, DNA, or nice paper will make a poor fake into a genuine bargain. A COA is only as good as the seller is honest, and if the seller is a fraud, then your COA is no more useful than a used piece of toilet tissue! If you have already purchased items on eBay that come with a COA, take a look at them now, do they have the sellers full details on them, name, address etc, no? well what use is the COA then when you find out your item is fake?
Learn how to bid. In other words, read the pages on ebay about how the proxy bidding system can work for you. Don’t wait until the last minute to bid and then get outbid by a sniper, use a sniper yourself! Learn how it works, always bid slightly higher than you are prepared to pay and use it to your advantage. Find out about the sniper programs that others are using, they are a must if you want to outbid your rivals.
Bidding early will only push the price of the item up (don’t forget that this will allow the fraudsters and forgers to bid you up too) so use a sniper! Do a Google search for ebay sniper, there are loads available. i use bidnapper.com but there are plenty of others.
Some forums etc will suggest that you ask the seller some questions, but other than asking a seller about the size of the item etc, don't waste your time asking them about the authenticity of the signature, as this has got to the the most stupid question you could ask any dealer, good or bad!
If they are selling fakes, then they will tell you any lies they think necessary to convince you of just how genuine it is, and they certainly wont admit to selling fakes will they? A forger will not only fake the COA and the signature, but the story to back it all up as well.
I hope the above has been of some use to you. Buying autographs on ebay is a great way to build a collection, and at the moment its still a buyers market, and with good knowledge (and with the use of a sniper!) you can obtain some excellent bargains.
Get to know the dealers, do they only sell on eBay? are they known by any of the other dealers? do they attend any of the more well known autograph events such as AUTOGRAPHICA or are they just a chancer selling fakes on ebay from a foreign land using Private auctions? Finding out more about the dealers means more than just asking the dealer!
And lastly, when buying autographs, always remember that its the autograph you are buying, don't get sucked in by the story that goes with it, because in most cases that's all it is, a story!
This article copyright 2013 Garry King.