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A guide to collecting the best Michael Jordan cards

Signs of fake Michael Jordan cards - a primer

My primer on some of the most obvious signs of counterfeit Michael Jordan cards. Here's a range of tactics used at time where a dishonest seller may actually tell you the card is fake to maintain deniability.
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While I’ve always been happy to help privately when I can, I’ve held off on discussing identifying fake Michael Jordan cards here. That’s mostly due to the fact that there is already an abundance of information online - does the world need another ‘How to spot a fake Michael Jordan rookie card’ article? Additionally, though, I’ve also always been a proponent for only buying valuable cards graded, making the need to share about spotting fakes less important.

However, a couple of things have prompted me to get into articles on spotting fakes and beginning to share some go-to pointers.

Firstly, there have been several times which readers have written in to confirm a (fake or fantasy) card was real before buying. Thankfully I was able to alert each before they became the latest victim of fake Jordans. This tells me it would be helpful to have a guide here even though the information is likely already largely available elsewhere.

Secondly, faking graded card slabs and flips continues to improve. Not only that but mistakes can happen in grading. Anyone buying graded high-end cards should have an understanding of signs of fake holders and cards as well as how to confirm grading serial numbers.

Finally, fantasy cards are becoming more and more common. These are brand new cards created to appear as though they were released alongside real sets. Sometimes these are just fun ‘fantasy’ items clearly marked as such, other times they try to catch buyers unaware of official set lists.

What these articles will not do

Counterfeiting is an ever-evolving problem. Some articles online discussing identifying counterfeit cards can give the impression that you just need to check for a set of indicators, don’t see any of those and the card is good. Unfortunately, though, as counterfeiting improves, unless articles are kept stringently up to date, they may not remain 100% accurate.

So, while I will update with new information as it comes to hand, these articles won’t tell you how to identify a fake card. What they will do is point out signs of a likely fake. Spot any one of the indicators and you are likely looking at a fake. However, spotting none of the indicators doesn’t guarantee the card is real.

Low hanging fruit

While I don’t want to say categorically that the absence of a set of indicators is a sure thing, most fake cards are atrocious and easily identified at a glance. This is even more so the case when you can view and hold a card in person if you have a good understanding of how the card stock should feel and are not beholden to (often poor quality) online images. These are benefits graders always have over online buyers.

Finally, as far as low hanging fruit goes, the seller will often ‘tell you’ it’s fake - believe it or not.

Sign of a fake card - they tell you

There’s one sign of a fake that can come up for any card - the seller may actually ‘tell you’ by doing their best to maintain a level of plausible deniability in their description of the item.

Many of the sentiments I’ll list here do not guarantee a card is fake, but I would strongly urge anyone who sees anything listed here to cast a careful critical eye over any listing along with the seller’s reputation and experience.

Have you ever seen any of the sentiments below in an online listing?

  • I don’t know much about these
  • I’ve been told this is authentic
  • I don’t have time to have this graded
  • Selling on behalf of my uncle / sister / Uber driver
  • Found in attic / estate sale

Why would this information matter enough to take up valuable space in an online listing? It doesn’t matter to the buyer that it is the seller’s uncle’s card or that it was part of an estate buy.

Listing unnecessary information like this is a tactic often used by sellers attempting to maintain the impression of a level of ignorance toward fake items. In this case it is intended to give them deniability by deferring the responsibility of identifying the item’s authenticity onto the buyer.

Here’s some more red flags:

  • Over excitement about the future value of a card
  • Selling a ‘bargain’ below market value
  • Needing a quick sale
  • Obvious spelling mistakes or signs of a poorly considered listing

Over marketing a card, creating a false sense of urgency or offering to sell anything below its actual value are red flags which should always warrant a pause and second thought.

What about these sneaky tactics?

  • Including in the title of a listing or buried in the description ‘reprint’ or worse ‘rp’
  • ‘Selling as a reprint’ mentioned (often buried) in the description
  • Blurry photos intended to hide indications of a fake

These are deliberate attempts to give an impression a card is real while still technically sticking to the rules of detailing that a card is a known reprint. Buyers who do not carefully check all details of a listing may believe the card to be real.

Fantasy or custom cards

As I mentions, custom made fantasy cards have become increasingly popular. Often sold through art and craft marketplaces, these can be a bit of fun when clearly a new custom made card (ignoring potential legal issues). However the lines can blur between a clearly custom made card and attempt at counterfeiting while maintaining a level of innocence (‘even though it looks just like the original its not a counterfeit its a custom…’).

Disappointingly, some of these online listings of fake/fantasy cards can turn up as the number one ranked search result in Google in some cases.

Recent call-out by Steve Taft

Let me illustrate a recent over-hype of a fantasy card which could build a sense of urgency and rarity.

Recently a card titled ‘1984-85 Star #101 Michael Jordan BLACK BORDER pre-rookie HOLY GRAIL card’ was listed for sale on eBay and advertised as ‘THEE ONLY ONE ON ebay WORLDWIDE’ (sic).

The description hyped the card even though it had been denied grading by BGS. In the description the seller even went as far as insinuating that BGS determining its ‘service unavailable’ (as opposed to ‘questionable authenticity’) meant the card may be real. BGS won’t assess a fantasy card as ‘questionable authenticity’ as its not actually faking anything.

Additionally, there was a promise that ‘should it unfold in the future that the card was actually kosher all along… you’re literally looking at a million dollar + card’. Oddly this comes slightly after mentioning ’… the card may not have been officially licensed’.

A copy and paste from another seller with a similar card contains statements like ‘I know next to nothing about this card set…’, ‘I was told they were 100% authentic… but have no way of validating…‘.

This listing included a good percentage of the red flags which I’ve listed above and ended at a sale price of $1,264.

Well-known Star Co expert Steve Taft called out the sale on his Facebook page as an urge to the buyer to cancel the transaction as well as education for those following along. As an expert in the field, he knows the card to be a fantasy print as BGS had already stated in their assessment.

What can you do about the tactics listed here?

Pause, carefully review and research. In the case above the seller did supply the information that BGS denied grading the card in the listing. Carefully considering that information - its the largest red flag possible when an independent expert declares a card fake - is the best course of action.

Research - reaching out to experts such as those that may be members of social media groups (eg 1983-86 Star Co or 1986 Fleer Basketball) might help if you’re not able to turn anything reputable up online. In the case listed here, though, no research was needed as BGS had already assessed it as a fantasy card.

I hope to do just that with some of these articles - speak with experts. Hopefully this becomes a useful resource over time.

Overall, go with your gut - any hype or ‘deal’ is usually worth a pass.