PSA/BGS slab scam? 4 best tips to spot a fake graded card
Owning a graded card of your favorite athlete is a must for any dedicated collector. For one, it preserves the card itself to help it last longer. It also looks good when you obtain quite a number of these slabs. For others, PSA or BGS graded cards are much easier to flip to make a quick profit.
The thing with graded cards, though, is that they can be faked by those with questionable intentions. Collectors who don’t practice sufficient discernment or caution will end up spending their hard-earned money on something that has less value than they realize. Shown below are some effective tips to help you spot these fake slabs.
Ask for closer images of the slab
Nowadays, most collectors opt to buy their cards online, like eBay or Facebook. When the transaction is done in this manner, the ability to personally check these graded cards go out the window. Nevertheless, the need for due diligence becomes more important than ever for card enthusiasts.
The first step that should be done is to ask for close-up images of the slab in question. In making this request, it’s crucial to remember these key points: the label, the corners, and the surface of the graded card itself. The photos that will be sent to you by the buyer should clearly convey these sections of the slab. If this is done properly, potential buyers will have the chance to remotely determine the condition before any deal is finalized.
Check the label
One of the most effective ways to spot a fake slab is to take a closer look at the label. According to PSA, their preferred method of determining the authenticity of their graded cards is to hold the label in front of a bright light. Once this is done, the label’s text should be deciphered by the naked eye. If not, there’s a chance the PSA slab is a fake.
Another red flag that collectors should look out for is the length of the PSA label. In a post by Cardporn, there are several examples of alleged PSA graded cards with labels that don’t fit the slab’s top section. If you encounter this kind of PSA slab, reporting it to the proper authorities is a must to prevent anyone from being scammed.
When it comes to BGS slabs, always check the patent number inscribed on the bottom section. It should have a period right after the first three letters. If this mark doesn’t show, or if there’s no patent number present, the BGS slab in question is a fake.
Inspect it personally
If given the chance, the ideal way to inspect a PSA or BGS graded card is to physically hold it in your hand. From there, you can use the tips stated above and apply it to the slab you’re planning to purchase.
With the recent guidelines concerning social distancing, physically checking on these graded cards won’t be possible at any time you choose. If you are given the chance to do so, it’s wise to protect yourself using a mask or deal with someone who has been vaccinated for safety’s sake.
Ask assistance from someone credible
When faced with a dilemma that can’t be solved, the practical solution would be to call on someone with the necessary experience and expertise. For this matter, finding a person who can help you distinguish a fake slab from an authentic one can be a lifesaver.
More often than not, a trusted collector with the ability to authenticate a graded card is just around the corner. You can ask for leads in various social media platforms and there’s a big chance you’ll get to communicate with one. Once you’ve found this person, you can present the card you want to purchase and have it examined for any sign of tampering.
These are just some of the ways collectors can use to determine the authenticity of a slab. Collectors can also ask their friends or do further research online for other methods. At the end of the day, it’s important to be discerning with these graded cards so you won’t lose money down the line.
A History Of PSA “Flips” (And How To Detect Fakes)
A PSA 9 Hank Aaron Topps Rookie card with one of the first front holograms.
Over the years, PSA has made various changes to the labels on its PSA holders (or ‘flips’ as most in the hobby call them) and the actual plastic ‘slabs’ themselves. Some variations are not as noticeable as others, but it’s important to know the difference when buying graded cards.
This guide was designed as a resource for collectors to help distinguish the different PSA ‘labels’ and ‘slabs’ to help identify some of the fake holders and labels that exist. I haven’t run across many fake PSA slabs, but they do exist and can usually be spotted if you know some of the telltale signs.
We hope this guide on PSA holders is a useful resource. In future posts, we also plan to examine the history of both Beckett and SGC graded holders as well.
PSA Flip Type #1 - The OG, issued from 1991 to 1992
This is the first ever holder issued by PSA; notably the first ever card graded by PSA with the Cert# 00000001 was the famed Gretzky T206 Wagner card which obviously got PSA in lot of hot water.
These initial PSA holders were only issued for two years and if you have any familiarity with PSA labels, these ones look quite different. First, the font on these 'flips' (or labels) is completely different from the font used in later labels. Also, the zeros have a distinct line and the serial number bar code is much longer as compared to later versions.
First ever PSA Flip - Ronnie Lott 1982 Topps Card - Image Courtesy Heritage Auctions
Here's the rear of the Type One PSA holder. Note there is a PSA hologram in the back of the flip, with the PSA logo on the left side of the flip. PSA graded cards in these holders were only issued for a few years and thus rarely come up for sale in comparison to later PSA holders.
Type One Flip rear - Image Courtesy of Heritage Auctions
PSA Flip Type #2 - New Font, Smaller Barcode, PSA 'Stamp'
The second holder issued by PSA had a completely new font that would remain (mostly) until present day. Note also the slashes removed from the zeros. The 'flip' still has rounded white corners, but the bar code is much smaller in width. Note that PSA also started stamping 'PSA' on the bottom right of the holder. These holders were issued from 1992 to 1999.
The rear of the PSA flip is mostly the same.
PSA Flip Type #3 - New Hologram on Rear of Flip
The third holder issued by PSA has a similar front label but a minor change to the rear of the flip.
The most significant change on the back of the slab is the hologram on the flip which changed to a Collector's Universe logo (from the PSA logo on the previous flip).
PSA Flip Type #4 - Font Change, Bar Code Aligned Left, No Changes to Back
PSA took an odd step back by changing the font similar to the first issued flip, yet without the slashes in the zeros. Notably the barcode has been shifted to align with the left side of the label. In addition, the grade of the card has been pushed to the left. The rear of the label has not been changed and still has the Collector's Universe hologram. Issued for an unknown period of time in the early 2000's.
PSA Flip Type #5 - Fonts Changed Again, Rear Label Changed
Fonts on the Type 5 flip are reverted back to the style on the Type 2 and Type 3 flips. Also the white container on the label is changed to square corners. One other noticeable change is with the 'PSA' lettering in red on top of the flip. This is actually a tougher to find holder.
On the rear of the flip, the hologram is removed and the paper is a light blue.
PSA Flip Type #6 - Front Label Unchanged, Rear Label is Changed
The font and borders are identical to the Type 5 flip.
The PSA logo on the back of the flip is identical to the Type 5, yet the paper is a darker royal blue, and the right hand wording is changed to 'A Division Of Collectors Universe' from 'A Collectors Universe Company'.
PSA Flip Type #7 - Grade Number Moved To Next Line
Only significant change is that PSA moved the card's numerical grade to the line below the condition descriptor (NM-MT in case of Dr J below).
Rear of flip is unchanged.
PSA Flip Type #8- New Hologram On Front Label and Back Flip Lettering is New Hologram
As shown there is a small 'PSA' hologram added the bottom middle of the front label. Otherwise the rest of the card is identical to the previous flip. This new hologrammed flip was introduced in 2015 by PSA.
The back wording and lettering are identical to the previous generation flip, yet as shown below there is a hologramming of the lettering.
PSA Flip Type #9- Cert Number and Barcode Added To Back of Flip
Front of the Type 9 Flip is identical to the Type 8, only variations on the back of the label.
As shown below, the barcode and the cert number for the card are added to the back label.
PSA Flip Type #10- New Lighthouse Flip Introduced
In 2017, PSA really stepped it up introducing their new 'Lighthouse' holders. As shown on the front, there is a new PSA hologram which they note was "upgraded to proprietary Lighthouse ™ technology, which creates an “on/off” illumination effect when rotated."
The white paper of the flip has also been upgraded as PSA notes: "instead of mere white behind the label copy, the wave-like brush strokes of “fugitive ink” embellish the background".
The back of the flip was also updated. As PSA notes:
The company’s trademark blue still spans the back of the label. While, a large, centered PSA Lighthouse logo is flanked by a stylized “PSA” (in lieu of “Professional Sports Authenticator”) and a QR code. Tamper-evident fugitive ink graces the area below the blue background.
Note that these are the current PSA holders so if you make any submissions today, these are the PSA holders that you would receive.
Tips For Detecting Tampered PSA Holders and Flips
There are several ways in which scammers will try to tamper with PSA holders.
The most common is when a scammer cracks a legit PSA slab and reinserts the card with a counterfeit or an altered card.
Thus, let's say said scammer buys a PSA 9 card on eBay, they would then 'crack' the holder, removing the card. They would likely purchase a raw, lower grade card for much less money and trim it to get close to Mint condition. Then, they could sell the newly resealed slab, while resubmitting the initial 'cracked' card back to PSA.
Thankfully the new Lighthouse holders make this process pretty impossible due to the 'fugitive ink' and new holograms. Trying to piece together one of the newer holders is likely a tall task. However the early holders are the ones that the scammers target, usually the ones without a hologram, as they are easier to split and would easily frost over when the halves were split and the seal was broken
PSA actually has a great security guide on its website discussing some of the things to look out for with cracked holders. They note some of the key things to look out for with tampered slabs:
Frosting Along The Edges Of The Slab
When purchasing a graded card online, be sure to inspect the PSA slab for a frosted type look around the outside edges. When scammers break a PSA holder (or 'crack') the holder in half to remove the card, the normal clear edges will become frosted.
One way the PSA holder may show tampering is what is commonly referred to as "frosting" along the edges where the clear plastic starts to exhibit a cloudy appearance. In some cases, you can actually see minor fractures or cracks in the plastic as a result of the violation. This occurs when the sonic weld is broken and can be seen in various degrees.
Here's a cracked PSA slab, where we can see significant frosting on the left hand side of the case. Image courtesy of Collectors forum.
Doubled Up Labels Used To Cover Up Original Flip
Another common scam is cracking a PSA slab and then creating a new label to post over the original flip. As PSA notes in their security guide:
Sometimes, a forger may attempt to simply add a fake front to a real PSA label. In turn, an extra layer of paper is used. As a result, if you attempt to do what we just described above while using a lamp or strong light, you will not be able to see through it. In essence, the label is now too thick to see the opposing side of the label. By utilizing this technique, you may also be able to see portions of the authentic label underneath, which may now be covered by the fake label on top. This is not always the case with forgeries, but it is an example of what some criminals will attempt to do and another way to avoid fraud. Furthermore, while the embedded hologram technology on the current PSA label acts as a deterrent, some forgers will try this technique by attempting to replicate an older style PSA label.
Fake Flips To Replace Original PSA Label
I've seen a lot of fake Jordan's in cracked PSA holders that use forged PSA labels. This is when you have to pay very close attention to the style and fonts used by PSA. Note we also discuss Jordan rookies in fake flips more in detail here.
Here's a fake card in a real PSA holder with a fake label using a legit PSA cert number for a PSA 9 Jordan.
Here's another thread from Blowout Forums showing a fake PSA 10 Jordan.
Note, be sure to look up the cert number on any PSA graded cards before buying. On PSA's website you will also be able to see any recent sales at eBay or at auction houses, so if there is data available, make sure you look at the recent sales and ensure that the card for sale is the same card that was sold at any past auctions.
Additional Card Grading resources
Do you avoid or bid less for old PSA label cards?
As grading has evolved, it seems that cards that were graded awhile ago may not receive the same grade if submitted now. (This is not a knock on PSA - I think they do a great job overall).
I have started to bid less on older graded cards - I certainly scrutinize them more closely. Wondering if others do the same.
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I do think it’s a valid concern, but it isn’t 100% true. You have to think, every card submitted from here on out will receive the new label/case. Does that mean every older card in a PSA case is trimmed? Also, you can say the same for BGS. Is every older card recently graded by BGS trimmed? The difference is PSA created these new labels which feeds into the trimmed fear, while BGS just has their normal labels. It’s a concern in both grading companies. It’s one of those things where it’s mainly based on the card: the value of the card, the player, the type of card, etc.
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Labels old psa
.Are the New PSA Slabs Better than Older Ones for Long Term Investing?
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