Blog Post

“You’re out!”: Cracking Down on Sports Card Fraud


Hallie Ayres
Contributing Writer

In another tale of quarantine hobbies that have unfortunately become rife with fraud, the sports cards and memorabilia community has witnessed a massive resurgence of interest in buying and selling valuable collectibles. Predictably, fraudsters are capitalizing on this market bulge. Throughout 2020, when the pandemic relegated everyone to their homes, many people started going through old boxes and finding childhood objects or newly valuable memorabilia. This led to a boom in internet sales of collectibles, with eBay reporting a 142% increase in their trading card category during the year. This amounts to 4 million more cards sold in 2020 than in 2019.

Stolen bases… or stolen cards?

This rampant expansion of a seemingly niche market has attracted a range of fraud tactics. According to Matt Stillwell, a NASCAR card collector, some eBay sellers simply steal images from other listings and use them in their own listings. In an interview with Kansas news channel KWCH, Stillwell shared his own experience with a scammer: “[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.” Once the package was delivered back to Stillwell, the scammer was able to get the $450 refund, leaving Stillwell with $0 and a bunch of low-value cards.

Brad Ziegler, a sports card collector and retired baseball player, told a similar story. He sold a card on eBay for $939 and shipped it to the buyer. Soon after the transaction, the buyer filed a dispute with their credit card company, alleging that the PayPal charge was fraudulent. PayPal reached out to Ziegler for proof of the transaction, and Ziegler sent back a video he had taken of packing and shipping the card and the tracking information claiming that the card had arrived at the buyer’s address.

Despite the proof, PayPal took the side of the scammer and placed a $939 debit on Ziegler’s account. Ziegler then sought assistance from eBay, which provided him with data proving that the buyer had opened that eBay account on the day of the transaction and then had not accessed it again since. As a result of Ziegler’s investigation, eBay froze all accounts associated with that buyer’s credentials, but PayPal refused to reverse their charge against Ziegler. After publicly tweeting at PayPal on two separate occasions, PayPal finally returned Ziegler’s money and launched their own inquiry into the fraudster, whose luck seemed to have finally run out.

Tips to disqualify fraudsters from the game

While situations with scamming buyers may be difficult to preemptively avoid, there are concrete steps that collectors can take to mitigate the possibility of purchasing fraudulent products.

  • Before making any large purchase of collector’s items, put in the requisite research to distinguish the real from the fake.

  • If you don’t have the professional knowledge to spot suspicious listings, consider asking a memorabilia shop owner for their advice.

  • Be sure to read reviews of the seller, and only purchase from reputable sources.

Brian Brusokas, an FBI agent who focuses on sports memorabilia fraud, highlighted the importance of doing one’s research: “If I were a collector, I’d be leery about the authenticity of items that come pre-certified because, unfortunately, the unscrupulous people in this hobby are falsifying certification documents. You want to know what you are collecting. You want to know the history of the market you’re entering, know the players within the market who are trusted dealers, trusted sellers.”

With these tips in mind, let’s hope sports card sales become more like a homerun instead of a series of strikeouts!

SOURCE: ACFE Insights – A Publication of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners

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