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The Cautionary Tale of GAI

Posted 5/28/2011 17:54 | Filed under Third Party Authentication | Comments (0)
I first started selling my surplus autographs on eBay back in 1997, when I was still just a collector with a full time job. In those days, I had few competitors, and zero concern about competitors selling fakes. But only a year or two later, the autograph market and just about every market on eBay had blown up. It was so lucrative selling autographs on eBay that it attracted forgers by the hundreds and eventually thousands.

For the next several years, eBay became flooded with fakes, dragging down the selling prices of real autographs too. (It's a good thing I launched in 1999, because if I had to depend on eBay for my autograph sales, I'd have been in serious trouble.) For a while, eBay did nothing about the problem. Eventually, they recruited third party authenticators to give potential buyers "quick opinions" for fees, and also created special subcategories for "Manufacturer Authenticated" autographs. This was a critical mistake, as this category included not just legit manufacturers like TriStar and Upper Deck Authenticated, but third party authenticators including GAI and PSA/DNA. Yes, the now-notorious GAI was for many years listed as an "approved authenticator" by eBay, which was basically a written invitation for abuse by the dishonest and greedy.

I have no direct proof of this since it obviously all happened behind closed doors. But it's pretty clear from all the fake autographs out there with GAI stickers that someone at that company was knowingly authenticating fake autographs, in cooperation with unscrupulous eBay autograph dealers. The fake GAI autographs of Peyton Manning, Phil Mickelson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Tiger Woods and David Wright -- just to name five of the most commonly found forgeries -- are still on the market being bought by naive or uninformed customers. Incidentally, the "Manufacturer Authenticated" subcategories still exist on eBay today, but all restrictions have been removed, making them ordinary subcategories.

After years of seeing fake GAI autographs proliferate on eBay, I finally decided to make a big stink about this scandal in 2007 on eBay discussion boards and elsewhere. Guess what, I got blasted and flamed by numerous collectors and dealers, who basically said, "How dare you criticize such an upstanding company" and then proceeded to hurl unfounded accusations at my business, credentials and personal integrity. Of course, four years later, after the crash and burn of GAI (since replaced by Global Authentics under "new" ownership), I feel fully vindicated. Yes, I told you so. If you didn't listen, too bad. To those in the know, most GAI "authenticated" autographs are now radioactive -- the exceptions being those in which GAI set up at TriStar or other paid signings before their reputation went downhill.

Just think -- at one time, GAI was considered near equal to JSA and PSA/DNA in reputation. If this could happen to GAI, it could eventually happen to JSA and PSA/DNA. These companies have much more in common than you might think. Both JSA and PSA/DNA have massive conflicts of interest, and there's a very fine line between a conflict of interest and downright corruption. GAI crossed that line constantly. I've heard plenty of rumors of similar behavior by JSA and PSA/DNA. As far as Global Authentics, I'm sorry, but any company with any link whatsoever to the old GAI outfit probably can't be trusted. You would think that a "new" company would at least completely change their name and image, but Global Authentics has done neither. The fact that eBay still has a link to Global Authentics is unfortunate, given that eBay has done an otherwise admirable job in removing countless bad autograph sellers in recent years.
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