On June 2, a sports card dealer was banned from a collectible site and is subject to a criminal probe for fraud. He was nabbed allegedly trimming cards or altering their look to improve their value. The altered cards were rated by Professional Sports Authenticator, a California firm that grades and authenticates sports cards and collectibles, for a fee. The cards were then sold by a large collectible retailer, PWCC Marketplace. The investigation crowded out all news on the message boards in the industry.
Chuck Oliver just rolled his eyes. This is news?
The popular sports talk radio host in Atlanta has been collecting cards for more than 40 years and has a passion for the hobby….and the truth about card grading. That the kingpin of rating cards, PSA, could not catch this latest fraud and alert investors is hardly a surprise to Oliver. It was the card collector community that first exposed the fraud, Oliver said.
“Before this story broke there was already fraud and incompetence in the industry. This is nothing new to me, Oliver said.“I have been collecting since 1976 and I will state as fact, carved in stone, that if you get a card from PSA, you have no certainty that card has not been doctored. They set a standard with the very first card they graded, the T206.”
The T206 is the Honus Wagner card from circa 1909-11. It was bought at auction by Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall and hockey great Wayne Gretzky for $451,000. The card has been sold several times, which included a price of $2.8 million. PSA authenticated the card in 1991 and launched its business off it. The card was altered and somebody went to jail.
“We should all ask PSA ‘Do you stand by the Gretzky-Wagner card’, which we all know was doctored,” Oliver said. “That was the very first card they graded. If they are the experts how did that happen?”
Oliver is incredulous about PSA’s business model of rating cards and the accompanying fee structure. PSA got its first card wrong, so why is it a surprise that more frauds are being discovered? Oliver’s irritation spiked, he said, when the PSA CEO last week started giving instructions to collectors about what to do if they felt they were defrauded.”Isn’t that what the submitter already paid PSA to determine,?” Oliver said.
PSA has a multi-million dollar business grading cards and authenticating them. It is a pure conflict of interest, Oliver said.
“The higher the grade, the higher the dollar value of the card. The higher the value, the more you owe PSA for grading it,” Oliver said. “So, the leap is, ‘Is it a conflict of interest and does it affect the grading of the card?’ In my opinion, this is just the continuation of the scam that card grading is.”
The industry double-standard of who to bust and who to let walk away was on display at a national show, Oliver said. A man selling what were declared to be fake Sandy Koufax autographs was surrounded at his booth by security on the floor of the show and hustled away. Meanwhile, the show went on and certainly included bogus cards.
Sports Card Radio
Oliver is not alone in the criticism of the card and collectible industry. Hauls of Shame calls it a “fraud-ridden industry.” The website has investigated artifacts stolen from the New York Public Library and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Television host Keith Olbermann has called card grading “a scam.”
Still, the money flows through the industry. Oliver has a simple message. Buyer Beware.
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