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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Operation Bullpen and Autograph Forgeries

Being an avid autograph collector, I am always looking for deals on signed baseballs in hopes that I can knock off a few hard to find Hall of Famers.  I'm always looking at auction sites to see if I can find anything that many folks who only use mainstream auctions like Ebay may miss.  Today, I was looking at an auction of a Roger Maris signed baseball and saw that it had a COA from "Forensic Document Services."  After my purchase of a fake Hank Aaron baseball a few years ago, I am much more stringent in making sure I have a reputable COA on my baseballs.

So, I googled Forensic Document Services and found some very interesting information that I thought I should share, especially with some of the younger folks around here who may not have heard of the FBIs sting operation titled "Operation Bullpen."

Some of you may know that the market for baseball memorabilia didn't really become 'mainstream' (much like baseball cards) until around the mid 1980s.  Most autographed memorabilia was passed around by dealers at shows, through shops and through mail order catalogs.  Remember, this is before the internet made it easy to find anything you want just by doing a Google search.

A few dealers began to forge their autographs, realizing that there was a ton of money to be made.  According to the FBIs website, Operation Bullpen began in the 1990s when the FBI identified a problem growing in the celebrity and sports memorabilia market.  Their sting operation culminated in 1999 when several prominent California memorabilia and autograph dealers were arrested.  The FBI seized tens of thousands of pieces of 'signed' memorabilia.

Some of the prominent subjects of their forgery were:

Mickey Mantle
Joe Dimaggio
Ty Cobb
Babe Ruth
Wilt Chamberlain
Michael Jordan
Roberto Clemente

Going back to my Google search for Forensic Document Services, a link popped up about Ebay's autograph policy.  They have a list of authenticators that they do not recognize as reputable, therefore, if you have an item with a COA from said company, your item is likely to be forged.

According to Ebay.com, here is a list of the authenticators that they do not allow:

  • Autographed items with COAs and LOAs, or references to COAs and LOAs from the following people or organizations:
    • ACE Authentic
    • Coach's Corner Sports Auctions LLC
    • Christopher L. Morales
    • CSC Collectibles
    • Donald Frangipani
    • Forensic Document Services
    • Hollywood Dreams
    • J. DiMaggio Co. / J. DiMaggio Company
    • Legends Sports Memorabilia
    • Nathan's Autographs / N.E. Autographs
    • Nicholas Burczyk
    • Pro Sports / Pro Sports Memorabilia
    • Rare and Signed.com
    • Robert Prouty
    • R.R.'s Sports Cards & Collectibles
    • SCAA / Front Page Art / Angelo Marino
    • Slamdunk Sportscards & Memorabilia
    • Sports Alley Memorabilia
    • Sports Management Group
    • Stan's Sports / Stans Sports Memorabilia
    • TTA Authentic (formerly STAT Authentic)
    • Universal Memorabilia
    • XMI Authentications
    • USA Authentics
  • Blank COAs and LOAs
  • COAs and LOAs as stand-alone items
  • COAs and LOAs from anyone listed on the FBI's Operation Bullpen website

    Some tips when buying autographs:

    1. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.  My Hank Aaron fake ball cost $50.  I should have known then that it was a fake, but I was still getting started.
    2. Verify the auto you are looking at with others that HAVE been verified by reputable companies.  I have identified several fake baseballs by doing this.
    3. Always check into the COA that you are getting.  Don't accept copies of COAs.  Make sure it is a company you have heard of.  If not, do as much research as you can before spending any money.
    Something that always bothers me is when people complain about a former player or personality charging for autographs.  One reason they charge is because of everything I said above.  Another is that older players, for example, weren't making the tens of millions of dollars that some of today's players make, so they don't have the financial security that others may have and are supplementing their retirement with auto fees here and there.

    For more information on "Operation Bullpen" you can check out the FBIs website here. You can also read Ebay's autograph policy here.  I hope this information has been helpful.

    Oh, and one more thing...  I did not bid on that Maris ball.
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