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As a full time dealer and authenticator of autographs I get daily requests regarding authenticity of items people have purchased both on and offline. They may be a collector, a dealer or perhaps they have simply purchased an item as a gift for a birthday or Christmas present, but for whatever reason, now they have the item in their possession, something is telling that the item may not be as genuine as they were lead to believe.
The item has come with a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) on fancy paper with a nice hologram as well, which suggests to the buyer the item must be genuine, so why then are they calling me?
COA’s are issued by all reputable autograph dealers in some form or another, but a COA itself does not “prove” authenticity. A COA is only as good as the dealer who issued it and at best, all it really does is to prove where you bought it, and nothing more. Check that yours has the sellers full contact details on it (not just an email address or ebay id), otherwise where do you go back to when you find out its not authentic?
If the COA suggests membership of any association, then always double check that they are members, as some sellers will suggest anything if it helps make a sale. In some cases you may even find the association mentioned does not even exist!
Sellers will sometimes suggest that their COA “proves” that the signed item is authentic, or that the attached hologram again “proves” the signature is authentic, but a signature is either authentic or not and no amount of holograms, fancy paper or fancy talk can prove otherwise. Holograms are used to simply connect the signed item with the COA. This helps the seller to track items and prevent fraudulent switching of items by the customer, as the holograms are numbered and also designed not to be removed once applied. Holograms can be purchased on ebay so they don’t really prove anything!
A COA is issued as a guarantee to you so that if you ever find that the item is not as described, you can get a full refund, so always be sure to keep your COA’s safely stored away. Most good dealers will also be a Registered Dealer (not just a member) of either the UACC, AFTAL or PADA, and these are the only three associations that you should consider as acceptable when looking to buy from any autograph dealer. Each of these associations has a code of ethics, and each dealer has to abide by that code, so if at any time you do buy something from them that is not what it should be, then you can be guaranteed a refund. Can the same be said of a dealer that has no association affiliation? and should he be trusted?
Some less honest dealers are no longer issuing a COA. Their excuse is that “anyone can produce a COA on a home printer” and that “a COA proves nothing”. Well certainly you can produce them at home, and most dealers would anyway, but the claim that it “proves nothing” is entirely incorrect, as it proves that they sold it, which is exactly why they don’t want to issue them, because by selling a fake signed item a person is guilty under the Fraud Act 2006 of “Fraud by false representation” and this carries a prison sentence.
In addition, recent changes within the Fraud Act a COA can also now be considered as a separate charge, as section 7 concerns “Making or supplying articles for use in fraud”, Which means the COA has been created and used to help convince you that the item is authentic. So by not issuing a COA a forger could not have that charge brought against him, which might well save him a few months in jail.
Lastly, watch out for items sold with a COA from another dealer. If its a known genuine dealer, then you should be OK, but some sellers offer a COA from a different company, but tell you that the COA guarantees the item to be authentic and a full refund if the item proves to be fake, but that only applies to the original buyer, not you, so the COA in effect becomes worthless, especially if the COA is from a non existent company or does not have full contact details.
So can you rely on a COA as complete proof of authenticity? In short, the answer has to be no, it is there only as proof of where you purchased the item and as a guarantee that if the item should prove not as described by that seller, then you will be able to get a full refund. So its the seller you need to be certain of and not the COA, so its worth asking these questions......
Which associations are they members of (if any!).
Are they known within the autograph world?
Do they disclose their full business address on the website or ebay?
How long have they been dealing in autographs?
If your item comes from a trusted and known dealer with good credentials, then you have little to worry about, but if it fails to meet any of the above criteria, then think again!
Until next time, happy collecting.
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