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Fake signatures an unfortunate factor when collecting sports memorabilia

CALGARY — The president of Pro Am Sports in Edmonton says he’d never seen anything like it in 30 years of selling autographed sports cards and other collectibles.

Suddenly, people were calling the store worried that there was something wrong with the Connor McDavid jerseys they had purchased, recalls Jack Cookson.

The hockey superstar’s autographs didn’t look quite right and the seller, who variously claimed to work at Pro Am or for the Edmonton Oilers Entertainment Group, wasn’t providing satisfactory answers. 

The police were called and an investigation resulted in a 23-year-old former part-time employee being charged last summer with multiple counts of fraud and forgery, as well as using false pretences and forged documents, in a scam that allegedly raised $12,570 from multiple victims.

Cookson, who confesses in an interview he’s tired of talking about the much-publicized event, pointed out the jerseys with fake autographs were selling for much less than the $1,500 real ones fetch.

“Those weren’t investments. Those were people who got caught trying to buy a $10 bill for $5 only to find out it was a $3 bill,” he said.

“We’re pretty vigilant in letting the public know that if you buy from Pro Am Sports you have to actually shop online or come into Pro Am Sports. We don’t meet people in parking lots or convenience stores.”

With celebrity worship showing no signs of abating throughout North America, experts say buying items signed by well-known people can satisfy not only a desire to be close to one’s hero but also pay off as an investment that gains value over time.

But not if that autograph is a forgery.

The value of a Connor McDavid signature is well-known to Jason Masherah, president of California-based Upper Deck, because the Oilers’ forward has been signing things under contract with the company for about three years.

A contract doesn’t prevent him and other elite athletes from signing pucks and programs and sticks for fans, and some of those items do wind up on eBay, says Masherah, but common sense suggests not all of the thousands of items for sale online are genuine.

“I would say a large majority of the autographed stuff you see out on the marketplace is fake,” he said.

Upper Deck puts a hologram on every item it sells and provides a certificate with a matching hologram, he said. There’s also a product number that can be used online to verify the autograph and see when it was made.

As for making money with collectibles, Masherah advises fans to buy the best of the best. Names like Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Tiger Woods are considered most likely to appreciate in value.

“Generally speaking, as athletes get older and they have other things to do, they generally sign less and less. Typically, the price goes up as part of a supply and demand type of thing.”

Collectors will find many resources on the internet to help them research and spot problems with trading cards and other memorabilia, says Mike Davis, owner of Eastridge Sports Cards & Games in Calgary.

“Vintage stuff is always going up and maintains its value very well,” he said, adding he advises collectors to buy only certified items from recognized manufacturers or dealers.

Marcel Eden, owner of card show organizer Summit Productions, often brings in athletes to sign items for attendees — each is marked with a Summit hologram and an event ticket to confirm its authenticity.

Sports collectibles have become a multi-billion-dollar global business, according to estimates by insiders, but experts agree most collectors should stick with what and who they know.

“My best advice for people, regardless of who they buy or where they’re from, is collect who you like,” said Pro Am’s Cookson.

“If your favourite player is a third-line left winger that you made a connection with and you identify with that player, awesome. Chances are, though, that third-line player is not going to become the investment you want him to be.”


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 31, 2019.

Dan Healing, The Canadian Press

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