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April 28, 2010. By KEVIN NELSON Is the forging of author autographs as widespread as the forging of celebrities and sports stars? I ask this because of new revelations about Forest Smith, the Pennsylvania forger who was sentenced in February for ripping off book collectors and others to the tune of $300,000.
According to sentencing documents in the case that I have obtained, when Smith was busted in December 2008, he had in his house some 2,400 books that he ostensibly planned to use for his criminal activities. As I wrote in the December 2009 Autograph, Smith bought unsigned first editions of prominent authors on one eBay account, stamped the books with their fake signatures, then sold them through a different eBay account to unsuspecting buyers who thought the autographs were real.
When they busted him, authorities confiscated 800 of the books in his house as evidence. Smith later confessed that he had planned to continue his forging scheme for at least several more years, and that he had gotten the original idea for it from seeing other dubious book sellers peddling phony stuff on eBay. “Then once he realized that there were others or what he believes to be others on eBay sort of engaging in fraudulent activity,” as his defense attorney put it, “Mr. Smith realized that he could make more money by doing the same.”
There are of course many more celebrity and sports autographs on the market than author signatures. But based on the Smith case, people who buy author-signed books online need to be as careful, and practice just as much due diligence, as collectors in those other fields.
Kevin Nelson’s book, Operation Bullpen: The Inside Story of the Biggest Forgery Scam in American History, is under development to be a movie and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown is planning a museum exhibit on it. Contact him here.