I have been a full time autograph dealer for 20 years trading as AUTOGRAFICA and selling on eBay under the same name since 1999, I have also been a UACC ethics board member for the UK, was voted UACC Dealer of the year 2000, and AFTAL dealer of the year 2011. I also work directly with Trading standards and the Police in bringing fraudsters to court (I supply the expert witness reports). So based on my own experience, and to help you avoid the many forgers on ebay i have come up with these 'Golden Rules' ignore them at your peril!
This guide is aimed at the relative newcomer to the big wide world of the internet seller, and will help you avoid the forgers and those sellers who are just not worthy of your business. I am writing another guide which will help with spotting the fakes, as this is a much more difficult process, so keep looking.
The number one rule for ebay is always read the full eBay listing AT LEAST TWICE! and this should include the sellers location, item location, business details and very importantly the category the item is listed in. Its surprising what you might see the second or third time that you did not see the first! There are many sellers who are only offering "copies' of the original signed photo, which are of course worthless, but their careful wording hides this fact. Check out the seller as much as you can, and don't take risks with your money (always use PayPal). If an item seems too good to be true, then you can be pretty damn sure that its a fake, so don't take chances.
1/ Never never buy anything from any seller who uses the "Private" option (Feedback or bidding), unless you are a very very very experienced ebayer!
There is not one single good reason why any legitimate seller would use either of these "Private" options, the UACC 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 the chances are 100 to 1 that you will be buying fakes, forgeries or you they are bidding against you!
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 top or 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 ID History to check. They change their name normally because they have had some bad press somewhere (isitreal etc) and so change it to try and hide.
Another way to check if the seller is using the "Private" auction option is to check their feedback (you were going to check their feedback anyway!). If you see "Private" instead of what the item was in the feedback files, then walk away. Juts ask yourself why any good seller would not want to let you see what they have sold?
2/ 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 will get you money back, and in the case of PayPal it is a very easy thing to do. If the seller does not accept either, and you have any doubts about the seller, then don’t bid. There are still a number of fraudulent sellers who do not accept PayPal, why? Because Paypal have barred their accounts because of the number of refunds they have had to give unfortunate customers. If the seller wants you to pay in cash and does not 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 safely pay for anything on eBay.
3/ 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, avoid the seller, (not putting the location is actually against eBay rules). If the registered location is different to the location stated, then avoid the seller. 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, Poland Romania, Russia etc. Also consider this, why is a man in Belgium, Spain, Greece, Italy, Cyprus or Australia! selling David Beckham etc signed items which he claims to have got in person! Unless you can be 1000% 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.
When you are checking the Seller location and item location, also go to the bottom of the page and check to see if the seller is a Registered Business. UK law states that any genuine business offering a product or service vie the internet must provide their full geographical contact details to any potential buyer, so in turn ebay have to show the full contact details of that seller. So if the dealer you are looking at is as genuine and as long established as he claims, then and as required by law he would be registered with ebay and have his business address clearly shown on every item page............or would he? Do you know why some are not registered as a business? well, one very good reason is that if you buy from a business you have certain rights regarding returns and faulty goods etc, but if its not a business, then you don't! The same would apply to any COA that is issued. Do your COA's have the full address and contact details of the seller you bought it from on them? of do they only have an ebay id or an email address?
4/ Check to see what other items the seller has sold in the past couple of weeks, if they have sold more of the same Elvis signed photos etc (or similar hard to find items), then avoid them. To check their sales go to 'Advanced Search' (top right corner) 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. This can be quite eye opening when you see how many ‘rare’ David Beckham signed shirts they have sold in 4 weeks! This method also works for those who use the PRIVATE option too.
5/ 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. Check who they are buying from ‘See Feedback from Sellers’ this can show you where they may have bought some items 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, just because a seller has 1000+ feedback, it does not mean he is genuine, there are many sellers that have great feedback but have never sold a genuine autograph in their life! Feedback is normally based only on seller performance, i.e. how long it took to post etc. Buyers purchase items because they believe them to be authentic, they only find out later they they may be fake.
These are the 5 things you should always check before buying anything on ebay, break just one of these rules and you will very likely be buying a duffer, break all 5 and you are throwing your money away for sure.
6/ Avoid 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 dealers and other registered sources’ (neither the UACC or AFTAL allow anyone to make this claim unless they state EXACTLY who they purchased from, or they may be VERO'd off !) etc etc.
It is common for sellers of fakes to always leave themselves an escape route if the get caught out, and this is what i mean....."I am selling this collection of autographs on behalf of brother/dad/friend/uncle/dog as he was a collector for many years but now wants to dispose of them" or "i bought these autographs via a very reputable dealer/auction house/autograph shop so i am sure they are all 100% authentic" but of course they will never tell you which one! These are their "escape route" when you tell them the time you have purchased from them is fake, as they can simply say "oh, very sorry, i will tell them, they will be very disappointed" Only the most stupid sellers of fakes make the claim that they have obtained their stock in person, as when the Trading Standards come calling, they will have no proof of this whatsoever.
Unless you already have considerable experience, then only buy from dealers who are actually Registered Dealers with the UACC or AFTAL (and can prove it), and be careful, anyone can join the UACC as a member, it is after all a club for autograph collectors. Only Registered Dealers who have been members for 3 years or more, and have proved they know what they are talking about, 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 a number of unscrupulous dealers 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!
7/ If the seller only has Madona or other similar A list celebs or names in quantity that the better sellers don't have, then be very careful. Are they being offered at prices below their true market value, ask yourself why they are selling them at below their true value? A real Elvis will cost you $1000 plus minimum so forget about that $150 signed colour photo with loads of provenance that looks a bargain! Most legitimate dealers now only use BIN on ebay and have given up with auctions. But many of the fraudsters are still using auctions with a low start price, their excuse being that they will allow the market to decide the price (check their feedback to see just how low the market decided!). Why would any anyone offer an item that would normally sell at say £100 with a start price of 99p when it has a good chance of ending at £21.67 ? This again is why fraudulent sellers use that "Private" option so that you can't see how low the prices really are.
8/ 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! Always check to see if the COA has the sellers full contact details on it, as without these a COA is are not worth the paper its printed. You should ask yourself why some sellers leave these little details off!
And what about the seller offering items with a 3rd party COA that says the item is guaranteed genuine with a lifetime authenticity guarantee? Its still the seller that is legally responsible for the authenticity of the item, so if there is a problem, its the seller that gives the refund, the issuer of the COA does not even come into it, and they certainly won't give you a refund will they?
Recently i have noticed that a growing number sellers who offer fakes on ebay, are not offering COA's with their items. The reason for this is that they have realised that selling a fake item with a separate COA is actually two offences in law. One is for the fake signed item, and another is for the COA confirming the time is genuine (which of course its not!). This new law helps Police and Trading Standards, and so the forger has simply stopped issuing them under the guise of "they prove nothing as anyone can produce them on a home printer". That is indeed true, but if you seek genuine items then why not confirm that fact by issuing a COA?
9/ 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! Learn how eva works and how a sniper can work to your advantage. Always bid slightly higher than you are prepared to pay it will pay dividends. Find out about the ebay sniper programs, they are a must if you want to outbid your rivals. Just do a Google search to find one, i use Bidnapper myself.
10/ This may sound strange, and once the forgers read this they will change their wording, and my top ten tips will become nine! But I have noticed that there are only a few genuine dealers that use the term ‘Hand signed’ but almost every forger uses it ! I have no idea why this is, I think it must be some form of subliminal action, whereby as the forger has signed all his own items with his hand, it must therefore be hand signed!
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 a buyers market, and with good knowledge (and with the use of a snipe program!) 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 (try a Google search)? or are they just a chancer selling fakes on ebay from a foreign land?
And one last thing, some collectors advise that you ask sellers questions about the item, this in most cases is a total waste of time. I get asked on a regular basis "is this item genuinely signed?" well as a UACC registered dealer of some 20 years experience, i would be soon thrown out if it was not, but ask that question to an eBay forger, and what do you think he might say? "No, its a forgery, don't buy it" No of course not, he will say whatever he thinks you want to hear! You might however get a better insight into his business practice by asking about his previous criminal record, although i think he may lie about that too!
You might also like to read a book that has recently come my way (thank you Perry). Its called "Fake Forgery Lies, and ebay" by Keneth Wilson. Its the true story of an ebay fraudster, who did not set out to be a fraudster, but when he realised how much he could make, he slowly went down the slippery slope until one day he got caught out!
As someone who has been directly involved in the investigation and prosecution of a number of ebay fraudsters, i was fascinated to read how this seller thought out his ebay scam and slowly improved on the little details that made him such a success. Because its a real life story resulting in his eventual prosecution in 2004 it shows the keen ebayer exactly how he fooled so many people into buying his fakes. You can easily find copies of this on ebay for just a few £'s Buy one, read it, and learn how to avoid these scammers!
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Garry King. UACC Registered Dealer 179. AFTAL Dealer 002.
Copyright Garry King and Autografica 2014