Forgers fakers and con men!

Forgers fakers and con men!

How the forgers can make mugs of honest collectors.

I put this short article together to help make both collectors and dealers more aware of the forger and his fakes on the UK market. It seems to be a growing problem here in the UK, although less so in the USA after the FBI closed down many of their fake memorabilia shops. 

Many have been ripped off by the fraudsters that create and sell the fake autographed memorabilia on eBay, the internet and even on the high street. I am sure you have all seen the many mainly small time forgers in the UK on eBay and elsewhere, but few frauds were as big as the one created by the Marino brothers in the USA. They created a business worth millions of $ on the back of fake signed items, the gullibility of the buying public, and the greed of memorabilia shop owners, many of which were well aware of the fraud.

After a very long investigation, the FBI finally took action in a sting they called "operation Bullpen" which resulted in a haul of fake signed memorabilia large enough to fill a warehouse. Some of this fake signed memorabilia and autographs are still being sold on eBay and elsewhere, but not on the scale that the Marino brothers achieved. You can find out a lot more about Operation Bullpen by clicking here.

The Marino family are now gone, and today the forgers are mostly just one man bands, who sell it on to mug dealers (who of course think they are buying the real thing from a genuine source) who then sell it on to high street framing shops, via eBay or more recently Gumtree (also owned by ebay), free ads in newspapers (often pretending to be collectors selling some of their collection) and increasingly in those High Street second hand ‘Cheque Changer’ style shops which seem to be on every High Street.

Some of these forgers are very clever, creating a little world of their own, where they claim to be working in the music business, or perhaps at Pinewood studios, or the news media. Most have a very plausible story, which if checked out, would of course have some very large holes in it! But of course it can’t be checked, as the forger will tell you that he can’t tell you too much, or he would get the sack!

These forgers normally sell these fakes to other small time sellers rather than sell them on directly to the public themselves, this way they are much less likely to get caught. The buyers are often totally fooled by their lies, and in some cases are even convinced that the forger is supplying them alone. In truth of course, he will be offering the same fakes to anyone he can find, as long as they are not the buyers next door neighbour of course. The buyers are further fooled by the COA’s that some of these crooks provide, or the photos of the forger with various well known celebrities. Some of the buyers are aware that what they are buying is fake, but believe that as they are getting a COA with each item, that will mean that they are not responsible for them if they are later told they are fake, but how wrong they are!

But, as a seller, you and you alone are totally responsible for not just what you sell, but also for taking due care in ensuring that what you have bought, is what it purports to be. This was made very clear in the judges summing up in the Sporting Icons trial of 2008, as this was part of the defence that both Faisal Medani and Graeme Walker used in an effort to avoid a jail sentence. The good news was that their plan failed, and they went to jail!

It is sometimes painfully obvious to even the non collector, that some of the items being sold on eBay for instance are fake, but Trading Standards and the Police are always loath to do anything about it, which is a disgrace, especially as some of these one man band forgers are raking in ?5000 plus per week, and all tax free of course! But of course, the Police or TS cannot put forward a prosecution based on "surely it must be fake, it looks nothing like the real thing to me" the case has to based on fact, and that means that they have to actually prove to a jury, "beyond reasonable doubt" that the items are fake, and that the seller produced them himself, or was at least aware of those facts.

Most forgers are fairly clever, but some will often miss spell names, sign photos that were not available until after the stars death, or sign photos of vintage stars with a felt tip pen. I have personally seen Laurel and Hardy photos signed in felt tip pen, and this forger was one of the worst I have ever seen, and only survived about 6 months before a Trading Standards office decided to take some swift action.

The forger turned out to be a woman living in the worst conditions I have ever seen (I was directly involved in the case and attended the house on the day the warrant was served), and although tens of thousands of ?’s had gone through her account, she claimed it was not her money, and was all done by a mysterious man called ‘Jason’ although she could not offer a shred of evidence that Jason even existed! She was let off with a suspended sentence and you can details of this here. 

Here are the Laurel and Hardy signatures on the vintage sepia 10” x 8” that was found during the raid on Louise Marney’s house.

As you can see, they are not very good! and most obviously, signed in felt tip pen, which were not even available when Ollie was alive, and very unusual when Stan was around. Despite this, she had been able to sell this item as authentic, and possibly dozens of other similar ones to buyers on eBay. What was even more surprising was that when we found the photo it was still with the letter from the customer who had returned it for a refund. The customer had written a short but concise letter requesting a refund, as she believed the signatures must be fake, as she had reason to believe that the photo was produced after both Stan and Ollie had passed away, so therefore the signatures must be fake. No mention of the very wobbly signatures or the felt tip pen at all

Another forger who lives very north of Watford, is currently turning out some very good Laurel and Hardy forgeries. A number have turned up on eBay over the past few of years, maybe longer, and I suspect the forger has also targeted the usual second hand shops, antique markets, and small local auctions (a favourite for the lone forger, as these auction houses normally have little or no knowledge of autographs).

These Laurel and Hardy fakes are always on old autograph album pages, taken from books that are easily found on eBay or at boot fairs. He then adds the signatures of both Laurel and Hardy, sometimes with a dedication (which is very common on the real thing), and has sometimes also added the small caricature vignette that is so commonly seen on the real thing.

Now these have been good enough to fool a number of dealers, and if they don’t take a good look, they would certainly buy them. And in the case of the antique centre, collectibles shop, or local auction house, I have no doubt at all that they would not question them if offered to them at ?150 or so. So you can see that whoever is producing these fakes, can make a very nice easy tax free income simply by selling 2 or 3 a week. The real thing sells for between ?350 and ?500 more if framed etc.

However, take a closer look and you can see that although he has mastered some of the intricacies of both signatures, neither is perfect. On the ones I have seen, the dedications are poor, and remember, that probably 90% of the double signed authentic Laurel and Hardy signed pages you see will be dedicated, and those dedications are always by Stan.

The other not so obvious error, is that the little colour sticker that is so often seen on genuine pages, has been printed using an ink jet printer, which were simply not around in the 40’s and 50’s You can spot these simply by looking through a magnifying glass, and you will see how the ink from the printer is ‘sprayed’ onto the paper, whereas the real ones are printed differently and look very different under the glass. Take a look at an image produced by your own ink jet printer and you will see what i mean.

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