How To Know If A Baseball Card Is Fake

Baseball cards are collectible items that you have probably seen being sold at flea markets, garage sales, and thrift stores.

However, there is now a huge market that has been built around sports memorabilia and, in particular, baseball cards.

Reselling trading cards is such a big industry. As a matter of fact, it is predicted that the industry will reach a value of 98.75 Billion USD by 2027.

But, wherever there is a chance to make some quick money, untrustworthy merchants will pop up. There are sellers who are selling fake or reproduction cards under the guise of real cards – and charging the same prices.

The problem is so big that eBay, one of the trading card and baseball card merchants, have created their own authentication service for cards being sold on their site for over $750. 

There are several ways to determine whether a baseball card is authentic. Read on to find out more about verifying your baseball card memorabilia collections. 

Differences Between Counterfeit/Fakes And Reprints

Counterfeit cards are fake replicas made with the intention of fooling people into thinking they are real and misleading buyers.

Often, counterfeit cards that are sold as vintage are aged to make them look old or have been exposed to ‘artificial’ wear and tear. Therefore, it looks like they have been a beloved and used item for many years.

Reprints are cards that are created with the sole purpose of being used as a collector’s item and they fully acknowledge that they are not an original piece of memorabilia.

Sometimes (but not always, so don’t bank on it), reprint cards are printed with a marker, or some text, to identify them as a reprint.

Some reprint sets are recreated as complete sets, based on original sets of baseball cards, like we have seen with the T206 reproduction set, which was handed out at the All-Star FanFest in 2000.

The lines between a reprint and a fake are often blurred. Scammers might erase the reprint marker or text, in order to try and sell the card as the real deal.

There are always cards listed on eBay that claim to be reprints but actually being offered as something of questionable authenticity.

Watch out for fake or reprint card listings using our list of red flags.

Red Flags In Sellers 

Watch out for sellers that claim that they have found the cards (rather than built their collection), and aren’t sure whether they are real or fake.

This is because they haven’t collected the cards themselves. Here is a real example of a fake card listing,  where the fake card ended up being sold for a huge $280 dollars: 

This card is being offered on consignment as an unknown vintage reprint and sold to the highest bidder.

Looking at this card carefully, I can say it definitely looks vintage and factory made, like a real card with actual wear when compared to a vintage Topps card from the 1950’s era. This card is not a modern reprint or a DIY copy.

The card is clearly a fake, but someone ended up spending a huge sum on it. It’s pretty clear that novices are being burned big time when they are trying to build up their collection. 

Be careful when buying items on eBay. Look up the seller’s past sales and feedback before bidding. A seller with bad feedback or who tries to pass off fakes could try to scam you too.

There are a few cards that are incredibly rare and are always in demand and you should never make a purchase without getting them graded.

Examples of extremely rare cards include 1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth, 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle, and a 1909 T206 Ty Cobb.

You should also look at relisting as sometimes, if a scammer has sold a fake card previously, and then a buyer has wised up and returned it.

Look at their past completed listings, and you might see the card has been listed, sometimes more than once. 

Also be aware of sellers that have zero feedback and zero past listings, especially if they have a whole host of rare cards. Past auctions and feedback are your friend when you are sniffing out a fake seller.

Look for sellers that have a feedback score of 99.5% or higher. Usually, a seller who has tried to pass off a fake as a real card will try to do it again. 

Old school screw down holders are also a bit of a red flag when it comes to online baseball card sellers. Scammers seem to think that screw down holders make fake cards look more authentic than they really are.

Some sellers are using them as a part of a scam and others have been scammed themselves, not realizing they’re selling fakes. But generally, screw down holders are holding fake cards. 

This isn’t always the case – we’d estimate that around 2% of cards being sold in screw down holders are authentic and probably around 10% of the people selling fakes in screw down holders aren’t aware.

That they are selling fakes and are just trying to resell something that they bought in earnest. A general rule of thumb though is just to avoid the screw down holders in total.  

How To Tell If A Card Is Fake

Scammers are pretty good at producing fake cards that are hard to tell from the real thing, especially if you are a novice. Thankfully, there are a few telltale signs that you can look out for when differentiating the real from the fake baseball cards.

The most obvious thing about many fake cards can be found on the back of the card. Even if it doesn’t seem too thick or thin and doesn’t feel heavy or light when held in your hand.

You will notice that the surface of the back of the card is covered with tiny dots, making it look more like a picture than a piece of paper. You might have to examine the back of the card pretty closely to notice these dots become apparent.

Second, typically the weight of the card is slightly off, meaning that it’s lighter than it should be. If your brain is telling you that the weight feels a little wrong, whip out your scale so that you can back this up.

Usually, you need an authentic example in a similar condition to compare the weight to. 

That being said, a lot of telling if a card is authentic or not is down to your experience. After handling vintage cards for long enough, you develop a bit of a sixth sense when it comes to fakes.

How To Buy Baseball Cards Without Getting Scammed

You should never buy a card unless you know exactly what you’re looking for. So, if you are after a pricier card, the best defense against scammers is to learn as much as you can about the card and the larger set that they are a part of. 

Purchase a few of the more common cards in the set, so you can get a good idea of what to look for (and what to avoid). If you’ve handled enough cards, you’ll be able to tell if something feels off or authentic.

Final Thoughts

If you’re buying cards online, you should only ever deal with reputable sellers who have proven track records for honesty and integrity. It may take some time before you find one, but once you do, you won’t regret it.

Remember that the internet is full of scams and frauds. You want to be really careful when dealing with any seller. You can learn a lot by reading reviews, looking at their account, and talking to other collectors.

And finally, if you’re going to buy a card, make sure that you know where you’re getting it from, and have done all of your research!

Bruno Breen
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