Some words about fraud

The past several weeks have been difficult ones for our hobby, for sure.  Information has come to light which has long been the subject of speculation, but which the Federal Court has crystallized quickly and definitively this week.  Without describing the sordid details, you can read a news story about the incident here.  Part of the considerable fallout from this has been an (understandable) desire on the part of the collecting community to hear from auction houses.  After some thought, we’ve decided that the appropriate place for us to sound off is here, on our own blog.

The short answer: We do not shill our auctions, nor have we ever.  

We also do not alter cards.  We do not perform undisclosed restoration on memorabilia.  We do our best to accurately describe everything in our auction with educational and interesting copy, and if we discover an issue that materially impacts the value of a piece after the auction goes live, we publish an addendum and give each bidder an opportunity to cancel their bids if they choose.

Additionally, we do not have hidden reserves.  Occasionally, we offer an item that does have a reserve, and we identify such items clearly, and we publish the amount of the reserve one week before the auction closes.

The longer answer:

We do our absolute best to ensure that our bidders participate in an honest, ethical auction in which real people can bid and win at real prices, and in which consignors can enjoy consigning to an auction in which its bidders trust the process.

We have several safeguards in place to help our bidders feel more comfortable.

  1. Our auction software is configured so that we cannot see what your max bids are when you place them.  This is a deliberate safeguard that prevents us from ever knowing how many – if any – bid increments exist between the current bid and a max.  As we say in our rules, we don’t have a fancy name for this; we just call it “integrity.”
  2. Our auction software is configured so that we cannot see the passwords of our bidders.  This prevents us from logging into their accounts and viewing your private information.  Because of this, if you lose your password and call us, we have no way of telling you what it is – the only remedy is to send a “password reset” email.
  3. Our auction software does not permit consignors to bid on their own material.  We explicitly prohibit this in our consignor agreement, and if we feel a bid is made by a consignor under a different account, or by a consignor’s proxy, we reserve the right to cancel the bid.  There is no circumstance under which we permit a consignor to win their own item and pay us the buyer’s premium.
  4. While we can never tell why a person might be bidding on an item, or who might be friends with whom, we do look for signs of shilling between consignors and a proxy bidder.  On one occasion, we banned a bidder – and a consignor – for bidding activity that we felt was illegitimate.
  5. We do not bid in the auction.  There is no “house account.”  We understand why some auction houses feel it’s okay to bid in their own auction, but we feel that when we can see who we’re bidding against, when we know who the consignor is, and when we have a 20% advantage because we do not pay the buyer’s premium, it’s unethical for us to bid in the auction.
  6. We do not withdraw items from the auction if they do not appear to be selling well.  If an item that does not have a reserve is in our auction, and has a bid, it will sell.

Collecting sports cards and memorabilia is a fantastic hobby.  It’s the greatest hobby.  It’s the best way to see how tightly sports is woven into the fabric of American history, and each artifact is special.  Each tells a story, and each collector that preserves an artifact in his collection is saving a piece of history, and passing along stories that otherwise would be long forgotten.

When we read or hear accounts of fraud in the hobby, it disgusts us as much as it does you.  Shill bidding – even if you still win the shilled item for less money than you’re prepared to pay – is robbery.  We’re serious about this.  It’s a big part of the reason why this company was founded.  The hobby will tell us whether or not it’s possible for an auction house like ours to survive in the long-term without engaging in unethical behavior.  Maybe it will, maybe it won’t.  Our survival will depend not only on the confidence of bidders, but on the consignors who are willing to contribute material to an auction where the house will not engage in unethical practices to help inflate prices.  But one thing we can unequivocally promise our customers, our consignors, our families and our friends: you will never, ever see us deliberately engage in fraudulent behavior.

Period.

 

Some words about “Auction LOAs”

In each of our auctions, we’ve been fortunate enough to have offered a growing number of quality autographed items.  Each auction, the selection we offer has gotten larger, more varied, and certainly more interesting.

As a result, though, we’ve felt the need to clarify our position on “Auction LOAs.”

Autograph collectors have a variety of opinions about the rise in third-party authenticators in the hobby.  Our opinion is that with the large amount of fraud pervasive in the hobby, third-party authenticators have done a world of good.  Sure, they occasionally make mistakes.  Sure, they are providing opinions that are, from time to time, frustrating.  However, on balance, they have an immense amount of knowledge, enormous databases of exemplars from which to compare, and large networks of experts with whom to consult.  Most importantly, the two largest authenticators – James Spence Authentication and PSA/DNA – have simply seen an incredible number of autographs, and have a wealth of experience from which to draw.

Our primary partners for the authentication of autographed material are JSA and PSA/DNA.  We are comfortable with their expertise, and are thrilled to work with them on the authentication of the autographed items that we sell.

Occasionally, however, we receive autographed items that have been authenticated with an Auction LOA.  These LOAs have been utilized by Auction Houses as a sort of limited LOA, featuring the opinion of a third-party authenticator but not an actual LOA.  The auction houses, perhaps to save money, enlist the authenticator to review a large volume of material in a short period of time, issuing these auction LOAs as a Seal of Approval but not a final verdict on authenticity.  Upon the auction close, the winning bidder receives the item along with the Auction LOA, which is described as a “preliminary review” of the item in question.  The winning bidder is then required to resubmit the item for a “full” LOA, for an additional fee.  It is explicitly stated in the auction LOA that it is entirely possible that upon full review, the item in question could be rejected as inauthentic.

Typically, the LOA incorporates the auction house’s catalog description of the item into the LOA.  They do this for the purposes of properly identifying the item (since no photos are included in the auction LOA), but the result is misleading.

Recently, we received a consignment consisting of a Babe Ruth autographed check.  The check came with an auction LOA, and the auction house described the signature as being a “10”.  Unfortunately, the consignor was under the impression when purchasing the check that he was getting a Babe Ruth check with the signature graded 10 by the authenticator.  Unfortunately, there was no way this signature would have graded a 10, or anywhere close.  When the consignor received the item, he continued to think he had a Ruth signature graded 10, because the auction house’s hyperbolic description was written into the LOA.

When we received the check, we immediately realized that the LOA was simply an auction LOA, and the signature was by no means a 10.  After breaking the bad news to the consignor, we submitted the check to JSA and received a full LOA.  Sadly, however, we returned it to the consignor, who would surely have taken a loss on his purchase since he thought he was buying a “10” when he won it.

We do not feel the Auction LOAs are unethical.  They are what they are.  We do, however, feel that some auction house descriptions are misleading – sometimes intentionally so – and when these descriptions find their way into an LOA, they can artificially inflate the value of a signed item, and even provide bidders with a false sense of security.

As such, Love of the Game has elected not to offer items with Auction LOAs for sale in our auction.  While we will take them on consignment, we will submit them to a third-party authenticator for full LOAs or Basic Certs (depending on value).  This is, of course, more costly, but in the end, we feel that it provides our customers with a level of confidence and comfort that the Auction LOA does not provide.  Furthermore, we feel that when our customers purchase signed, authenticated items from us, they should not have to pay additional money to obtain a “full” LOA.  They’ve already purchased the item!

Going forward, any authenticated item sold by Love of the Game will have a full LOA or a basic certification, with the exception of those signed items that are authenticated and encapsulated by PSA, SGC, or JSA (those items, of course, do not require certs since they are encapsulated).

On a similar note, we are occasionally asked why we sometimes sell signed items that are not authenticated.  There are two reasons why this may happen: 1) The item was submitted too close to our auction deadline, and time did not permit us to obtain the authentication.  2) The item is simply not valuable enough to justify the investment.  In both of those cases, please know that we do not sell non-authenticated, signed items unless we are certain of their authenticity, and we guarantee that such items will pass muster with JSA or PSA/DNA.  In the event that they do not, we are happy to issue a full refund on your purchase.

We hope that this clarifies our position regarding autograph authentication.