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Top 10 FAKED Sports Autographs - Don't Get BURNED! Watch Before Your Next Big Purchase

October 30, 2021 11 min read 2 Comments

Top 10 FAKED Sports Autographs - Don't Get BURNED!  Watch Before Your Next Big Purchase

Who are the some of the most forged sports autographs on the market?  More importantly, how can you avoid them?  That’s today’s topic.

Any time there is big money to be made in any industry, forgeries are bound to pop up.  The online marketplaces have done a better job in recent years getting rid of fake autographs off of their platform. However, it is nearly impossible for them to get rid of them all.  Important we know some vital background on each athlete’s signing history and proper authentication before buying.

I talked to Jimmy Spence Jr over at JSA and here are some of the autographs he says are constantly being failed by them.

Let’s take a look at 10 sports autographs that are constantly being failed at authenticators in 2021 and talk about things to look for and proper authentication that each athlete should have.   Here they are in no particular order.

#10 Michael Jordan 

Every week it seems like someone is emailing or calling me asking my opinion on a $500 Michael Jordan autographed jersey they found on eBay.  They of course want to know if it is real as they think they’ve found the steal of the century.  As you can guess, a $500 signed Jordan jersey is about as real as ocean front property in Arizona.

Jordan jerseys sell in the thousands now.  Cheapest one I could find was for $5,000 at the making of this video.  Why would someone sell an authentic signed jersey of his for $500?  The answer, they wouldn’t.

If you are looking to buy Michael Jordan’s autograph there are a few things you need to know.

First, Jordan has been an exclusive with Upper Deck (better known as UDA) before dinosaurs roamed the Earth. This is the company he has done all of his private signings for.  This is not to say there are not legitimate autographs out there without Upper Deck authentication, but 99% of the real Jordan autographs out there come with an Upper Deck COA.

Couple things to know about Upper Deck.  They apparently lost their online authentication database for items signed prior to 2002. Those hologram #s are not verifiable on their website.  You have to email them for verification.  Sometimes, they are unable to verify them.   It is really a big mess.

Also, I have noticed that Upper Deck holograms have a tendency to fall off fully intact. I have had this happen to me twice on Jordan jerseys.  What would stop someone from taking that hologram, applying some adhesive to the back and putting it on another Jordan item?  Nothing right?  Now this doesn’t happen to all his autographs, the ones it happened to me on were early 2000 autos where the adhesive probably wasn’t up to today’s quality.  So I am not saying this applies to every UDA item, hopefully their holograms have become fully tamper proof here in 2021.

If you are looking to buy a Jordan Upper Deck autograph not directly from the UDA website, I personally would make sure the item has of course the numbered hologram on the item, the matching COA card with that same hologram # on it, and that # is in the Upper Deck online database.  Lastly, I would of course compare the Jordan autograph to examples on the UDA website to make sure they match up.

Lastly, if you want to guarantee you are getting the real deal, fork over half your life’s savings and buy one from the UDA website.  They are currently $15,000.  Best way to guarantee you are getting the real deal.  Print off your receipt and keep it with your item forever.  I would also take pictures of the item and the COA upon receiving it and print those out to keep with the item.  Just adds to the authentication that you were the originally purchaser of the item.

Keep in mind, there are also legitimate Jodan autographs out there authenticated by JSA, PSA, and Beckett. These are mainly his in-person autographs, which Jordan does occasionally sign.   Typically, not the best autograph because it isn’t in a controlled environment such as a private UDA signing.  I would only purchase a Jordan 3rd party authenticated autograph is you have a bit of experience collecting Jordan autographs and feel confident that you agree with that authenticator’s opinion that it is a real Jordan autograph.

#9 Mickey Mantle

One of the most forged autographs from the Operation Bullpen ring.  If you don’t know what that is, jump on Google and do a quick search.  Tons of information on there including a whole book written on it.  Basically, it was the largest forgery ring the FBI ever brought down.   Mantle, along with several other athletes such as Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio were being forged in droves. 

Couple things you want to be looking for on the Mantle autographs.  Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs on YouTube put together this quick video on that.  He explained it so well I thought I would show you a short clip.  Let’s take a look.

As he mentions, the 3rd party authenticators such as JSA, PSA, and Beckett are very good at spotting a good Mantle.  If you see a Mantle with their COA, chances are that is a good Mantle.  This same rule would apply to Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio.  If you don’t feel comfortable buying their autograph unauthenticated, stick to buying one from JSA, PSA, or Beckett.  They know those 2 autographs just as good as Mantle.

If you don’t feel comfortable buying an unauthenticated Mantle just yet, I would stick to one of those COAs or an Upper Deck Authenticated one as he was an exclusive of theirs.  But again, with Mantle, look for those banana M’s, the N in Mantle, and also the flow and angle of the Mantle.

#8 Kobe Bryant

With Kobe Bryant dying at such a young age and being very popular among collectors, his autograph is highly forged.

Kobe has a very simple older autograph with just the K and a loop.  That makes it an easier autograph to forge in my opinion.  The autograph later in his career was very different, much more of a full name autograph.

Couple things to remember about Kobe.  Early in his career he was an Upper Deck exclusive, moving to Panini after that.  At the end of his time with UDA and his entire time with Panini he had that full name autograph.

Same thing with Jordan and Kobe autographs, I would only be buying UDA or Panini autos where the hologram is in their online database and also comes with the matching COA card.   Just my personal preference to cover all my basis. 

There are also a ton of PSA authenticated jerseys out there.  In my opinion, those are good.  You’ll see them mainly on custom jerseys though, not officially licensed ones.

I personally wouldn’t buy any Kobe autograph that wasn’t already authenticated.  Just way to easy to forge due to his simple autograph.

Kobe will become a more expensive autograph as the years go along.  Do it right the 1st time.   Buy a UDA or Panini authenticated autograph.

#7 Tiger Woods

An extremely tough autograph to obtain in person.  The likelihood of someone getting one and then having it authenticated by JSA for example are very slim.  

Like many athletes on this list, Woods is an Upper Deck exclusive athlete.  ONLY buy Tiger Woods UDA authenticated items.  UDA makes such cool golf items of him and in my opinion, he is still somewhat affordable.  I’ve seen photos as cheap as $700 lately, but most are in the $1500 range.  The photos they have him sign are just epic and the golf flags are so cool.  Even the signed shirts are awesome to have in your collection.

Same thing with all the other UDA guys, buy an autograph that is in their database and has the matching COA card.

#6 Wayne Gretzky

Gretzky does sign a decent amount in person, so there is an OK shot at getting him to sign something for you.  Not great, but better than most on this list.  Because of that, you will see a decent amount of quality JSA, PSA, Beckett signed photos and jerseys out there. 

Gretzky, has a very quick autograph, there should be no starts and stops withing his autograph.

Currently, he is an Upper Deck exclusive athlete, so everything we have been talking about with UDA applies here.

#5 Tom Brady

Probably the most popular football autograph on the market.  Brady has such as simple autograph, many forgers have tried to replicate.  They can be pretty easy to spot as some are just very bad, not even close.  However, there are some good forged ones out there.

Very tough autograph in person.  If you do get one it is a sloppy autograph, not even recognizable.  The chances of you finding a very nice Brady in person autograph that can be authenticated by JSA, PSA, or Beckett are slim.  Better chance of finding an honest politician.

Couple things on Brady.  He was a long time exclusive of TRISTAR, currently now with Fanatics.  99% of legit autographs will have one of their numbered holograms on the item which would then be verified on their respective sites.

There is NO matching COA card with TRISTAR or Fanatics.  Just the hologram that you verify on their site.  TRISTAR recently changed theirs to a QR code and Fanatics has been a QR code for a while.  Just scan it with your phone to verify online.

Yes, any hologram can be faked, but 99% of the ones you see out there are legit.  

Fanatics has recently even started doing letters of authenticity that are notarized on 2021 signed Brady product.  I dig those, especially since Brady pricing has just gone through the roof.  Extra layer of authenticity.

Rule of thumb on Brady, is ONLY buy TRISTAR or Fanatics authenticated autographs of his.  That’s it.  Best quality and authenticity.

#4 Mike Trout

Most popular autograph in baseball outside of probably Shohei Ohtani this year.  Trout has a very simple autograph which opens it up to forgers.

Trout did have a different signature his rookie year.  If you see an item like this, they are very rare and valuable.  I have one with his MLB Debut inscription and absolutely love it.

Trout is one of those rare superstars that signs a good amount at the games.  You will see a ton of his autographs that are PSA, JSA, or Beckett authenticated.

Trout has been an exclusive of Major League Baseball since the beginning of his career.  In my opinion, I would buy only Trout MLB authenticated autographs.  They will hold the most value over the long term.

Each Trout auto will have that QR code hologram that you can scan with your phone.  There is no matching COA card with MLB authenticated items.  Just the numbered hologram that is verified on their site.

#3 Muhammad Ali

A very tough autograph to authenticate for the novice collector.  Since Ali had Parkinsons disease, his handwriting wasn’t the best later on in his life.  His authentic autograph can be difficult to spot given this circumstance.

I personally wouldn’t mess around with any unauthenticated Ali autograph.  Too easy to get burned.

What would I buy?  There are some PSA DNA witnessed autographs out there from one of his last signings.  Online Authentics witnessed a lot of his signings in the early 2000s.  Steiner Sports took part in a ton of signings with him.  Super Star Greetings when they were still around doing signings represented Joe Frazier and had a good amount of dual signed items with him and Ali that are good.

But seriously, don’t get burned on an Ali autograph.  There are plenty of good options out there as he signed a lot.  Pick one that has a witness authentication with it.

#2 Derek Jeter

Here is an autograph that can throw a ton of collectors off since Jeter has changed his autograph many times over the years.  A new collector would look at Jeter’s rookie year autograph and would totally be convinced that was a fake.

Jeter signed for many years for Steiner Sports and was an exclusive client of theirs.  You will see a ton of Jeter items out there with their hologram on the item.

I would be very cautious when buying his autograph with Steiner authentication.  99% are good, but the story is someone got a hold of their holograms at one point and some bad Jeter’s made it out.  I can’t verify this story to be 100% but something happened as there are a few bad Jeter autographs out there with their hologram on the item.

If I was buying an item with just the Steiner hologram, I would make sure it had the matching COA card of theirs and double check the Jeter autograph and match it up with some good ones. 

Steiner did not switch to a numbered hologram system until the end of their deal with him.  If you can find items with the numbered Steiner hologram and MLB authentication numbered hologram (Steiner was an MLB Authentication licensee holder at one time) that is what I would I would be looking for.  

Any item with just the Steiner non numbered hologram and no COA card I would be cautious on a case-by-case basis.

Also, just know you will see a ton of items out there with the Steiner COA card that just say DEREK JETER AUTOGRAPH on it, saying nothing of the item associated with that COA card.  Typically, those were customer send ins.  Anytime you sent in an item to a Derek Jeter signing, they sent back a generic card like that.  Probably to save time in getting all the orders out.

All recent Jeter autographs (2020 on), should all have MLB authentication hologram as they have been present for all the paid private signings with him in the past 2 years.  Fanatics is also good as all their items come with the MLB authentication.

JSA, PSA, and Beckett are all pretty good about picking out good Jeter autographs.  But he’s had so many variations and has actually done a fair number of signings.  I would try and find an MLB authenticated Jeter autograph before I dove into any 3rd party Jeter authenticated items.

#1 LeBron James

Last but certainly not least.  When you are the most popular current playing basketball player and a global icon, your autograph tends to be forged.  Big money to be made with LeBron.

Here’s the thing with LeBron.  He is absolutely almost impossible to get a free autograph from in person.  VERY, VERY challenging.   I’ve had luck authenticated items he signed from high school.  Those can be much more straight forward than his current autograph, mainly because the items he signed are dated from that time period and he had a much different autograph then.

The chances of you finding a legitimate, recent LeBron autograph that is not Upper Deck authenticated are slim to none.  LeBron has been signing autographs as an exclusive client for them for basically his entire career.  

The #1 rule when buying LeBron James is always buy Upper Deck Authenticated autographs, just like Michael Jordan.  Every item you buy an item of theirs it should have the UDA numbered hologram, matching COA card and be verified in their online database.  That’s it.  Don’t even mess around with anything else.  This will arguably be one of your biggest purchases of your collection, do it right.  If you want to go even a step further and buy it direct from UDA and keep your receipt with the item, that is a 100% guaranteed way to get a legit LeBron autograph.

Don’t go playing MacGyver and think you can spot a legit LeBron autograph and save yourself a few hundred or thousands of dollars.  Do it right the 1st time.

There you have it, 10 autographs that are commonly forged and you should be cautious when buying.   Others that could be on this list would be Babe Ruth.  Let the 3rd party authenticators handle him.  They know the exact type of item he would have signed, the time period, and can also check if other autographs have been removed from the ball.  Always buy Ruth with a 3rd party COA from JSA, PSA, or Beckett.

Remember, never be rushed when buying any autograph.  Take your time, ask questions,  Always pay in a method such as PayPal or with a debit card where you have some recourse should the transaction go sideways on you.

2 Responses


May 02, 2023

I have a LeBron James signed Ohio high school state tournament program from his freshman year.
What do you think it’s worth? I want to get insurance on it. I have to believe it’s going up as he approaches the scoring record.


February 21, 2022

Great article. Am I to understand that there are possibly authentic UD items that will never be able to be verified due to the system mishap?

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