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PSA Craigslist Scam

In the baseball card industry, scams, counterfeits and rip-off artists have always existed. From the early 80s, when counterfeit 1963 Pete Rose rookies flooded the market to more modern sophisticated methods, counterfeiters are always looking for a way to make a dollar. Only the most knowledgeable collectors and dealers, who were familiar with the intricacies  of the cards, such as printing techniques and card stock properties, were able to comfortably buy higher dollar cards without the threat of being cheated. The common collector was a prime candidate to be taken advantage of. With no simple method of detecting these counterfeits and most collectors not knowing who to trust, many believed this epidemic could single handily ruin the baseball card market.

However, in 1991, the “savior” of the industry arrived, Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA). PSA offered a service to both grade and authenticate baseball cards. Any cards sent to PSA would be graded and stored in a tamper proof case, thus ensuring the safe buying and selling of that card in the future. Even a beginning collector could buy a PSA graded card with the utmost confidence. Even today, the vast majority of baseball card collectors will rarely question the authenticity of card that resides within a “PSA” case.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the scam artists to figure out how to get their piece of pie in the graded card market. The most widely known and successful scam originated in California and is referred to amongst collectors as the “California Craigslist PSA scam”. Below, I’ll outline the specific scam and what measures need to be taken to avoid this specific scam and scams of a similar nature.

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Should I get my Baseball Cards Graded?

History of Grading Companies

Within the baseball card world, the condition of the cards has always been paramount.  There is something about a well preserved, untouched piece of history that resounds with the avid collector. In times past, the condition of a card was always subjective, usually left up to the discretion of a dealer, there was no industry standard by which cards were described.

In 1991, the hobby was changed forever, some say for the better, others for the worse. This year marked the startup of Professional Sports Authenticator, better known as PSA within the hobby. For the first time, a standard was established by a non-biased 3rd party to “judge” the quality of a card. PSA would grade the card on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being considered a gem mint “perfect” card. After grading, the cards would be returned to the collector in a tamper evident holder to prevent the card from being damaged or replaced by a different card.

While PSA was the first Third Party Authenticator (TPA) and still widely considered the industry leader, they are not the only players in the game. Sportscard Guaranty Company (SGC) and Beckett (BGS or BVG) are also major players in the card grading industry. There are several other grading companies, however outside of the “Big 3” mentioned above, the other companies garner little respect amongst serious collectors.

While PSA, SGC, and Beckett will all grade cards from any years, each company has their niche. For pre-1930 cards, SGC is widely considered the TPA of choice. For 1930-1990, PSA is most widely used, and for modern cards (post 1990), Beckett is most popular amongst hobbyist.

How Value is Affected by Grading

First off, let me state this, as it seems to be the most common question by novice collectors, getting your cards graded does not necessarily make them more expensive.

For pre-1969 cards, value and grade typically follow a “hockey stick” trend (see graphs below). Imagine a graphical representation of a hockey stick, for the most part if follows a linear relationship and at the end rapidly trends upward. Similar is the case for baseball cards, each increase in grade equals a proportional increase in value until the cards reach “high grade” and they tend to increase exponentially in value. It is important to realize that hockey stick effect is different for cards from different eras. In the 60’s, cards start to rapidly increase around the Mint 9 grade level, in the 40s-50’s around the Near Mint-Mint 8 range, in the 30s around the Near Mint 7 range and for tobacco and caramel cards, this happens around the Excellent-Mint 6 range.

Obviously, these are general observations and there are several exceptions. Some of the exceptions include low population cards, condition sensitive issues (caramel cards), short prints, etc.

Which Cards to Grade

Because there are so many factors to consider, it is difficult to black and white rules when it comes to deciding which cards to grade. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula, and you should try and familiarize yourself with the market of the cards you may be potentially grading. However, here are some quick and dirty rules of thumb that I use when deciding which cards to grade.

Pre-1930 cards

  • Any HOF or major star
  • Commons that are Very Good (VG) 3 or better
  • Short prints or limited issue
  • Any card that is susceptible to counterfeiting

1930-1969

  • Major stars in Excellent (EX) 5 or better
  • Key Rookies in VG-EX 4 or better
  • Stars in Excellent-Mint (EX-MT) 6 or better
  • Commons in Near Mint (NM) 7 or better
  • Any card that is susceptible to counterfeiting

Below are graphs for pre and post war cards that summarize this information

Conclusion

The best advice that can be given when entering into the grading game is to start small. Unless you have handled hundreds of graded cards, chances are you will be disappointed with your first few submission results. The grading experts that assign the grades can be very tough and unpredictable. Second, know the market and choose the grading company wisely, as it will impact the sell price of the card. Finally, and probably most important, understand the grading criteria, as it could literally save you hundreds of dollars.

Are Error Cards more Valuable?

We get several calls a week from card owners wanting to know if errors on cards will make it more valuable. Before I answer this question, let me first explain that “error” cards fall into two general categories: uncorrected errors and corrected errors.

An uncorrected error is an error card that has never been corrected. In other words, every one of these cards was printed with the error and was either discovered later or was never bothered to be corrected. The majority of error cards fall in this category and by and large will have no impact on the card’s value.

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Baseball Card Values – What are Your Cards Worth?

We get several phone calls a week from people looking for free online price guides that will tell them how much their cards are worth. There are several price guides available (SMR, Beckett, etc), however unfortunately they are not free, and worse, they are not very accurate. These price guides are helpful as they show which cards are relatively more valuable within a given year or set, but as for accurately reflecting market value, you’re better off checking out places like eBay to determine value.

To help you understand how to value your cards, we’ve put together this helpful guide.

New website launched

Well, we just launched our new website, which should make navigation easier for our customers. We’ve also added a lot of informational/reference data that can be utilized by collectors of any level. We apologize as there are still some pages under construction, but we hope to have everything fully operational soon. We hope you enjoy the site, and feel free to drop a comment or suggestion.

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