The Investigators: Don't buy from someone 'faking famous' - Toledo News Now, Breaking News, Weather, Sports, Toledo

The Investigators: Don't buy from someone 'faking famous'

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The Action News 5 Investigators bought a half dozen celebrity autographs from the world of sports and movies and then put them to the test to show just how quickly you can throw money at someone who is faking famous. The Action News 5 Investigators bought a half dozen celebrity autographs from the world of sports and movies and then put them to the test to show just how quickly you can throw money at someone who is faking famous.
The competition for celebrity autographs is fierce because those signatures sell and the crooks know it. The competition for celebrity autographs is fierce because those signatures sell and the crooks know it.
With electronic microscopes and computers, Grad sniffed out the imitations. He said four out six of the Investigators' autographed items were bogus. With electronic microscopes and computers, Grad sniffed out the imitations. He said four out six of the Investigators' autographed items were bogus.

(WMC-TV) - An autograph from a famous athlete or a favorite movie star might be hanging on your wall right now. People are willing to pay big bucks for those kinds of keepsakes, but how do you know if that prized signature, is the real thing?

The Action News Five Investigators bought a half dozen celebrity autograph and then put them to the test to show just how quickly you can throw money at someone who is faking famous.

The competition for celebrity autographs is fierce because those signatures sell and the crooks know it.

"Forger doesn't care about you," said Steve Grad with Professional Sports Authenticators. "They don't care if this is for a birthday present. They don't care if it's for a wounded veteran. They don't care if it's for your grandma. They don't care. They don't care if it's for a little kid. They don't care. They want to make the money."

The Investigators took their sports, television, and movie-related autographs to professional sports authenticators in Santa Ana, California, which is one of the top certifications companies of celebrity memorabilia in the nation. It is a place where experts go high tech to find out if an autograph is real or fake.

Grad says the best forgers track down aged ink and antique paper to pull off the con. Others use a sharpie and a little artistic talent.

With electronic microscopes and computers, Grad sniffed out the imitations. He said four out six of the Investigators' autographed items were bogus.

The purchased "fake" autographs included legend Michael Jordan, baseball slugger and former redbird Albert Pujols, and "Sex and the City" star Sarah Jessica Parker.

But when Grad put them side by side with the ones in his database of 140,000 famous signatures, he said the slant, shape, and sizing did not match up.

"I don't even think the person that did this one on the photo knew what her autograph looked like," he said pointing to the Sarah Jessica Parker photo. "They do anything to make money."

The FBI seized more than $500,000 in cash and about $10 million of forged memorabilia in the largest forged memorabilia bust in American history. Retired FBI special agent Joe McKinney was a lead investigator for Operation Bullpen in San Diego.

It brought down a counterfeit ring that sold forged baseball autographs coast to coast. The heads of the crime network went to prison.

But that did not take the pens out of the criminals' hands.

"If you arrest the person selling drugs there's gonna be somebody else that takes his spot because there is money to be made. And it's the same thing with memorabilia. As long as there's the demand," said McKinney. "Then it will continue to be a problem."

Part of the problem for consumers is that expert opinions are just that: opinions.

Remember that Albert Pujols autograph that Grad said was a forgery? The seller told the Investigators that Grad was wrong. When we told him Grad refused to certify the autograph, the seller wrote:

"Authentication of a signature is a subjective opinion and not exact science. This autograph was obtained in person. I handed the helmet to Albert, he signed it and handed it back."

Steve Grad's boss, PSA president Joe Orlando, followed up with the below statement:

"Our experts, just like any experts, don't get it right every time. But if Steve was emphatic the autograph was fake it says something."

In fact, even certificates of authenticity from companies like PSA are sometimes forged. Both Sarah Jessica Parker autographs came with certifications from other companies. One autograph we bought that Grad says is real is a signed Muhammed Ali photo. Grad said it is worth about twice what we paid for it.

But even Grad says the only sure thing in the world of celebrity autograph is the one you get for yourself.

If you're shopping for celebrity memorabilia to put under the Christmas tree, click here for a list of tips from the FBI to try and help you steer clear of fakes.

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