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Sports card fraud rampant during pandemic

Published: Apr. 5, 2021 at 9:52 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - While many things like businesses and events were hard hit by the pandemic, some industries and hobbies thrived like they haven’t in years. Sports card collecting, for instance, has seen a massive increase in interest across the globe. Unfortunately, that interest has piqued the interest of scammers who have found yet another opportunity to take your money and leave you with nothing.

Forced to “Stay at home” for much of 2020 and trying to fill the time, many people started digging through their closets looking for old collections they’d started as children. Comic books, toys and sports trading cards long since stored away, came out and reignited hobbies for thousands of people. After going through those collections that had been locked in closets and attics for decades, old collectors stepped out and became new collectors. Some collectors call it, “the Covid craze.”

According to eBay, in 2020 the trading card category on its site grew by 142-percent, with more than 4 million more cards sold than the year before. In other words, big business that, as is often the case, scammers couldn’t wait to get in on.

Matt Stillwell collects NASCAR cards and he has quite a collection that he’s amassed over years of collecting. He says he’s all too familiar with scammers who are capitalizing on honest collectors like him. Some of the scams are simple.

“I mean people steal pictures off of eBay of a card and then they’ll, you know, post that card up, you know, just the picture,” Stillwell said.

Other scams, he says, take a bit more effort.

“(A buyer) took out the $450 worth of cards I sold them, said I sent him junk baseball cards, and then he mailed it back,” he explained. “As soon as it shows ‘delivered,’ he got his refund back.”

Another common scam involves whole boxes of sports cards. Available at local retailers like Walmart and Target, Stillwell says even if you buy the boxes in person, you may not necessarily get what you pay for.

“They’ll buy that from Walmart or Target, take it home, open it, pull the autograph or the memorabilia card out, replace it with another card and take it back to the store and say that the card wasn’t in there,” he said.

Other scams are much more involved. Some thieves even resorting to forgery to get over on collectors and dealers like Vince Oliver.

“Dealing with the fake memorabilia and the fake autograph stuff is really really big,” Oliver said. “People, on a daily basis, bring me stuff that is blatantly fake and they try to sell it to me. "

Oliver owns Oliver’s Sports in Wichita. The store sells memorabilia of all sorts, with a heavy emphasis on sports. He says fake, forged and altered trading cards have been an issue for years, but now the people making them have a more captive and vulnerable buying audience than ever thanks to renewed interest of folks re-entering the hobby during the pandemic.

“There’s a lot of guys out there that are really just trying to sell counterfeit cards. You can unfortunately get on to just about any city marketplace and find that,” he said.

Oliver wasn’t the only person who interviewed who said that. So, Factfinder 12 began looking for fake cards that were on the market and began by searching for a card many collectors say is one of the most forged cards in the hobby. The 1986 Michael Jordan rookie card. Sought after and high dollar, it’s like candy to scammers. Some of whom are better at forging them than others.

Here’s a quick lesson on how to spot a fake. Genuine versions of the card have a tell tale white splotch toward the middle of the card. The splotch is often referred to by collectors as the “ghost in the aisle.” Those in the know, know that if the ghost isn’t there...there’s a problem. There are other red flags that deal with color and the way the card is printed and the stats on the back.

Within five minutes of searching eBay, Factfinder 12 was able to find a Jordan Rookie that, very clearly, showed no ghost in the aisle. At the time, it was selling for more than $37,000. We showed it to a few collectors, each of whom agreed there was a problem with the card.

“Yeah, it’s was supposed to have a ghost in there,” collector and dealer Ted Coleman said.

“Would I bid on it? No, no I would have looked at that and, first thing, saw that and said ‘well I would have asked more questions,’’ Vince Oliver added.

Things were not looking good for whomever would end up purchasing that card. Whether the it truly was fake or not, we don’t know for sure. We did flag the auction to eBay, but the card still eventually sold for $43,600.

So, how do you, the re-emerging collector, keep from getting scammed?

“Just do your research, you know, on the person you’re buying it from,” Oliver suggested. “Do your research on the item that you’re buying, that’s the big thing, you just got to have that knowledge.”

If you don’t have the knowledge, Oliver suggests going to a trusted card shop and showing the listing to staff. Get their take. Also, only buy from sellers with long histories of positive feedback and, we say it a lot on Factfinder investigations, but we’ll say it again: If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

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