Interesting partial article about operation bull pen back in 2000

Just thought I would share a small portion of an article I read again about operation bull pen back in 2000.

Public Awareness

Perhaps the most important objective of this investigation is to increase public awareness regarding the substantial memorabilia fraud problem that may account for upwards of $500,000,000 in losses annually. While there are legitimate and reputable companies selling authentic memorabilia, the industry has been plagued with high-quality forgeries making it difficult for legitimate companies to compete. It also defrauds thousands of unsuspecting consumers each year.

While the only way to absolutely guarantee that the autographed memorabilia is authentic is to personally witness the autograph, there are several ways to avoid becoming a memorabilia fraud victim. These recommendations include:

  • 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. This investigation 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 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.

Other organizations that have assisted in this investigation include:

  • The Upper Deck Company
  • New York City Department of Consumer Affairs
  • Major League Baseball
  • San Diego Padres
  • EBay
  • San Diego Police Department
  • Oceanside Police Department
  • California State Attorney General's Office

Seized Items

Seized Items Value
U.S. Currency $409,838
Bank Accounts (3) $239,330
Bank Account (1) $101,000
Miscellaneous Items of Jewelry $56,274
Authentic Items of Miscellaneous Sports and Celebrity Memorabilia $50,000 (estimate)
Fraudulent Items of Miscellaneous Sports and Celebrity Memorabilia $10,000,000 (estimate)
1999 Maxum Vessel $34,000
1997 Harley Davidson Motorcycle $6,350
1983 Ferrari $33,000
One Residence in San Marcos, California $195,000
One Residence in Escondido, California $700,000
E-Trade Account $35,000 equity
Total Value $11,859,792

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Yup, if only all autograph collectors were required to read this before they bought one! Fact is, most autograph buyers have NO CLUE about forgeries, and quite frankly how disgusting this hobby can be. I've always thought that educating the general public would be the most effective way to fight these forgers. I have even considered trying to teach an "Autograph 101" course at the nearby college.

I agree.  This hobby needs more education for collectors.  I have been collecting for many years and have every book on autographs and signature studies that I can get a hold of.  You have to be very knowledgeable in any hobby you pursue, especially autographs.




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