Limited-edition fashion items used as lure in sports memorabilia scams: Internet Scambusters #633
Sports memorabilia scams span a huge area, from phony autographs to fake or non-existent limited-edition fashion items.
In this week's issue, we explain how one basketball sneakers fan allegedly lost thousands of dollars to one of these tricksters.
And we'll tell you what to do, and what not to do, to avoid getting snared in these scams.
Now, here we go...
The Great Sneakers Scam and Other Sports Memorabilia Tricks
Collecting sports memorabilia is big business -- and we're not just talking about baseballs signed by legendary players.
Even contemporary products, like limited-edition fashion items such as designer sneakers, sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars, making collectors a mouthwatering prey for scammers.
In one recent example -- which has been widely reported but we are unable to confirm -- a "sneakerhead" (as they're called) paid $30,000 for five pairs of exclusive Nike sneakers known as "LeBronold Palmers," named for NBA champ LeBron James.
That may seem an outrageous sum but we did find a record of a pair of these "kicks," which were never commercially released, being offered for sale on eBay in 2012 for $4,999, though the sale was subsequently withdrawn.
The same valuation is placed on the sneakers by the respected fan-site TheShoeGame.
The scam story we encountered boiled down to the familiar explanation of the deal being offered on the social media site Instagram, the victim being asked to pay by money transfer, and then the "seller" disappearing without ever sending the shoes.
In another recent verified incident, a Wisconsin father paid $3,200 for a jersey supposedly worn by baseball hero Alex Rodriguez in 1997, as a birthday present for his son. The player's representative subsequently declared the shirt to be a fake.
As a result, investigators bought a number of other items from the same seller and checked them with the teams concerned. They were all fakes, made of different fabric and using different colors and graphics.
The alleged seller was subsequently arrested and charged.
But these stories are just the tip of a terrible iceberg. There's no doubt that huge rip-offs are taking place every day in the world of sports memorabilia.
* Collectibles, especially, again, sneakers, and also jerseys and other sports garments that are not in the advertised condition, often with serious defects.
* Forgeries: Either simple "knock-offs" -- copies of sought-after items, usually unautographed like the jersey mentioned earlier -- or painstaking copies of originals, often autographed, that are virtually undetectable.
We touched on some of these in an earlier issue, Sports Scam Artists Play for High Stakes.
* "Autographed" items that actually have forged signatures, sometimes manually signed but also items signed using an "Autopen," which is a machine that is capable of copying and reproducing genuine signatures.
There's nothing illegal about Autopen signatures -- unless the recipient is misled into believing they're genuinely signed by the player.
Older collectibles may actually have been "signed' using a rubber stamp but these are usually easily detectable.
In other cases, scammers simply produce high-quality photocopies of an original signed photo.
According to the fan-site SportsMemorabilia.com, these copies, which are referred to in the trade as "preprints" or "reprints," used to be easy to spot but are becoming much more difficult because of sophisticated, high-quality printing techniques.
7 Ways to Avoid Scams
Of course, many of the scams are made much easier by the fact that more and more collectors are buying online, sight-unseen.
But here are 7 things you can do to avoid being caught out.
1. Never do what the victim we mentioned above did: sending money using a cash transfer. Once you're convinced a deal is genuine, use a credit card.
You may also use PayPal but may not have the same dispute rights that you get with a credit card.
2. If you're a seller and receive a PayPal notification that money has been received in your account, check the account independently online.
3. When buying on sites like eBay, check the seller's feedback. SportsMemorabilia.com recommends giving a wide berth to anyone with less than 98% positive feedback or with strongly worded, negative comments.
4. If an item is being sold with a Certificate of Authenticity (COA), research the name and reputation of the COA issuer.
5. When buying an expensive item, ask the seller to provide an invoice describing the condition in detail. Ask specific questions about things such as the wear on a sole, fraying, damage and other well-known defects for the particular item you're interested in.
6. Look for obvious signs that the item is not genuine, including a color difference from the original (details of these are often available online), wrong materials such as a letter written on a type of paper that didn't exist when it was supposed to have been produced, and signatures that appear to be "flat" and part of the image.
7. Always do a search on the item you are planning to buy to get an idea if other people have been scammed when buying it, or if there seems to be a larger number of the item available for sale than you might expect.
The bottom line is that if you can't verify the reliability and reputation of a seller, or you can't inspect the item first, you probably shouldn't buy.
If you're a sports card collector, there's a whole raft of additional scams you should be on the lookout for.
Check out this report from the card collectors' site, Cardboard Connection, for 10 scams to avoid.
As one of the investigators involved in the Alex Rodriguez scam commented, sports memorabilia scams are a growing problem and many people don't realize they've been conned.
"If they receive the item, they may have hung it up on the wall and are happy with their purchase," he said. "They never would have known they were a victim."
Alert of the Week
Panhandlers at strip malls and freeway ramps often use props like empty gas cans to convince their victims of their need for ready cash.
Most recently, law enforcement officers have reported a spate of incidents involving nearby cars with their hoods up. The scammer says he has broken down and needs cash to get his auto repaired.
Once he has taken enough money, he drops the hood and drives off. You have been warned!
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.