Investigating Frauds in Baseball Memorabilia

Baseball: America's Home Run

Some baseball fans want to bring home a piece of the game. There is a multi-billion-dollar market for sports memorabilia—and there are plenty of unscrupulous people willing to make a quick buck selling forgeries and counterfeit goods. When these scammers ship their merchandise or exchange payment through the mail, they’ve committed mail fraud. The United States Postal Inspection Service investigates and responds to criminal activity that uses the U.S. Postal Service and the mail. Postal inspectors respond to reports of suspect baseball collectibles advertised, sold, or shipped in the U.S. mail, and the case investigations can help consumers look for signs of potential scams.

Uncover more about the work and history of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in the Behind the Badge exhibition

Want to Learn More? View a video about counterfeit sports memorabilia at Mail Scams and Schemes: Counterfeit Sports Memorabilia

Dates

Investigating Frauds in Baseball Memorabilia is in the museum’s Franklin Foyer, April 9, 2022 to January 5, 2025.

Various baseball related objects in a display case

Autographs As Evidence

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During the 1990 investigation, Willie Mays autographed this authentic reprint of a 1952 baseball card.
#2019.6622.2, Loan from John Zemblidge

Postal inspectors had assistance from baseball great Willie Mays as part of a 1990 mail fraud investigation into Hit King Marketing Inc. The company was suspected of failure to render goods to customers and forging the autographs of multiple legendary baseball players. Mays gave his real autograph as evidence.

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The postal inspectors who collected Mays’ signature in Arizona used this registered mail receipt postcard to establish the chain of custody of Mays’ signature when they sent the evidence to their colleagues in New York.
#2019.6623.3, Loan from Joseph Byers
 
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Willie Mays submitted his handwriting sample on this postal form.
#2019.6622.1, Loan from John Zemblidge

Consumer Tip! Compare prices of similar signed memorabilia—if something is deeply discounted, it’s more likely to be a fake. To learn more about avoiding scams, visit Behind the Badge - Avoid Scams

Forged Signatures

Baseball cards and autographed photographs can be affordable collectibles but can also be highly rare and valuable—traits that scammers seek to exploit. Collectors need to be on the lookout for forged signatures, “doctored” cards that have been altered, faked authentication documents, and counterfeit reproductions.

One case handled by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service involved a suspect who had forged autographs onto memorabilia. He then sold the “signed” photographs, postcards, and baseball cards as authentic. The scammer pleaded guilty to mail fraud in 2011.

 
Roberto Clemente baseball card
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Pie Traynor baseball card
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Roger Maris baseball card
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Satchel Paige baseball card
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This is a small selection of the evidence gathered for this mail fraud case.
Loan from the United States Postal Inspection Service

Want to Learn More? View a video with the Postal Inspector speaking about this case of forged autographs at Behind the Badge - Forged Autographs

Suspicious Sales

Postal inspectors and FBI agents from the Art Crime Team uncovered shill-bidding at Mastro Auctions. In this scheme, some staffers would place bogus bids to drive up sale prices during auctions. The company’s record profits motivated many people to consign items for sale. The inflated prices affected values throughout the specialty market and raised costs for all sports collectors. In 2015, the chief executive officer and three employees pleaded guilty to several criminal counts.

 

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#2019.6621.4 (pages 420-421)

 

Mastro Auctions published catalogs for buyers to study anticipated auction prices for collectibles and the catalogs became part of the investigative case. The Illinois-based company was also suspected of selling phony and altered memorabilia along with genuine items.
Loan from the United States Postal Inspection Service

Faked Authenticity

In 2017, a buyer reported that his newly purchased sports cards failed an authentication check. The subsequent investigation led postal inspectors to search the suspect’s trash where they discovered collectible cards, broken card holders, authentication labels, and counterfeit currency. The suspect had encased low-value reproduction cards in professional-grade sports card holders—marked with counterfeit authenticity labels—to make them look like very rare, authentic cards. The suspect pleaded guilty to mail fraud and money laundering.

 

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The suspect used fake Mickey Mantle cards that did not accurately mimic the colors or signs of wear of the originals—the creases and areas of loss in the originals were simply printed in these bad reproductions.
#Exp.2019-37 to -43, Courtesy of the United States Postal Inspection Service
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Staff of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service examined this encased baseball card and dusted it for fingerprints. “Bad holder” was etched into the plastic to mark the fake.
#Exp.2019-8, Courtesy of the United States Postal Inspection Service

 

Consumer Tip! Research the seller, but keep in mind even a seller who knowingly deals in frauds may try hard to seem legitimate.

Resources

Read about two more sports memorabilia fraud cases investigated by the US Postal Inspection Service:

Learn consumer awareness tips at Behind the Badge - Consumer Awareness

Visit www.fbi.gov/investigate/violent-crime/art-theft to learn about the Art Crime Team of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Visit www.uspis.gov to learn about the work and mission of the US Postal Inspection Service. You can report suspected mail fraud at www.uspis.gov/report.