The Scale of the Problem
There are no reliable figures on scale of autograph forgery in the United States. It is likely, however, that there is some correlation between the number and value of forgeries sold and level the of internet penetration. In other words, the growth of the internet has fostered the growth of the forgery business. The basis of this relationship is clear.
To profit from his fraud, a forger must clear three hurdles:
The internet has made the third of these hurdles -- which was traditionally the most difficult -- tremendously easier to clear. Before the advent of internet auctions, the channels to market for would-be forgers were limited. They were forced to sell items directly via mail order or launder their wares through legitimate autograph dealers or forgery fronts. This is no longer the case. On the internet, the forger can cut out the middle man entirely.
All collectors have a financial stake in thwarting autograph forgeries.
Forgeries drive down prices for genuine items. Case in point. Authentic Lou Gehrig autographs are quite scarce but Gehrig forgeries abound. Over time the sheer number of fakes in circulation gives the market a inflated perception of the availability of Gehrig items and prices correspondingly contract. Supply is magically close to demand.
If you were to remove all of the fake Gehrig signatures from the market, the value of the genuine signatures would skyrocket. Consider that the number of real Gehrig signature available is fixed (or declining ) and the number of forgeries is edging higher all the time and the long-term implications of this are clear.
Also as the scope and scale of the forgery problem continues to draw media attention, new collectors may be discouraged from entering the hobby. This is not just an idle concern. A major hobby publication survey showed a dramatic decrease in the number of young collectors compared to a decade ago. The hobby is, like America, growing gray. The general increase in autographs prices witnessed during the past two decades was fueled by a dramatic increase in the number of people entering the hobby. A decrease in collectors will, over time, lead to a decrease in prices or at least a slowing of their rate of appreciation.
More detail will be added during the coming months.