eBay Offers New Authentication Service for Sports Cards

eBay is partnering with CSG Parent to authenticate raw cards and, man, have I got concerns

eBay’s a great place to buy cards. Let me get that out of the way. I do a lot of buying outside of there from individuals, shows, auction houses, and other sites, like COMC. But in general, eBay is where I make the majority of my card purchases. eBay is unquestionably my ‘go to’ when it comes to buying cards, without question.

The site has always had a problem with fraud and that’s because practically anyone can sell there. It’s not limited to ‘professional’ sellers. Part of its appeal, frankly, is that Joe Blow can use it as a platform to reach buyers without any sort of network. That benefits both Mr. Blow (don’t laugh) and the buyers, who can find rare cards with a few clicks of a mouse.

But that also means the site is littered with fake sports cards. eBay has a buyer guarantee, hoping to provide a bit more confidence that they’ll receive what they paid for. But that has also left the company to play middleman in between what can sometimes be complicated disputes. eBay is hoping to snuff out the more expensive fakes through a new authentication program with CSG’s parent company, CCG, and I have a lot of thoughts.

First things first — let’s get to the details. The program will, for now, cover individual cards sold for $750 and above. That, from my understanding and according to this article, is for all cards over that amount — meaning that it doesn’t appear to be some sort of opt-in service by a buyer or seller.

Here’s how it will work. If a card is listed or sold for $750 or more (not including tax and shipping) and meets other eligibility requirements (graded cards, sets, lots, autographs, patch (yes, this obviously does not apply to pre-war), and other items listed here on the full breakdown don’t count), the seller is required to send the card to an authentication facility. There, it will be reviewed by CCG affiliates, CGC Trading Cards and CSG, for authenticity. The card will not be graded or even slabbed — it is merely determined if it is authentic.

If authentic, it goes on to the buyer and everybody’s happy. If not authentic, it goes back to the seller and the buyer gets a refund. That’s the long and short of it. One big thing of note is that, while the threshold is starting at $750, eBay reportedly plans to drop that to $250 later this year.

I see what eBay is trying to do here. And, honestly, when it comes to pre-war cards, this will help some people. One of the things I hear the most from buyers wanting to get into pre-war cards is that they’re cautious about buying raw, ungraded stuff because, frankly, they don’t know what they’re doing. A program like this will give buyers, both inexperienced and experienced, a bit more assurance. That’s a good thing.

That said — there are several things that jump out to me about this announcement.

CSG in for a Huge Boost

This appears to be a huge win for new card grading outfit, CSG. Yes, technically, the authenticity is managed by parent company CCG. But, per eBay’s announcement, authentication is going through CSG and CGC Trading cards. With sports cards at the focus here, it’s the CSG involvement that is what most are interested in. CSG, all of a sudden, essentially finds itself as eBay’s premier authenticator — at least that’s the perception and that’s a huge boost for their already strong reputation.

Now, while their rep is fine, it’s worth pointing out that CSG still trails the big three of card graders in PSA, SGC, and Beckett. CSG does certainly have a better reputation than the fly by night graders. But the values of their sold cards often have been underwhelming compared to others. That’s despite what appears to be a pretty strict reputation, which in theory, should make their stuff even more valuable. But that hasn’t happened and you see some modern card collectors, especially, frustrated at the tough grading. They have made some gains but have a long way to go. This news certainly helps on that front.

None of that is all that relevant to this discussion, though. What I’m most interested in is, how this affects their card grading business. CCG/CSG seems to be set up in a pretty good place with this deal as they will stand to see a lot of business from it. They aren’t formally grading cards — this is only an authentication service. That is a much easier process that is not going be as time-intensive. But, even at the $750 level, they are presumably going to be doing a lot of authentication work.

Will that affect their grading operations? I assume not. CSG certainly would have weighed the workload and decided it won’t be a strain. But man, I’m at least interested in seeing how they handle things once this program gets pushed down to the $250/card level. And if they end up needing to use resources in their card grading business, that could create delays for submitters — theoretically.

Where’s My Stuff?

The really big takeaway here is that it’s now going to take even longer to get your cards.

Say that a card from a domestic seller typically takes five days to reach you, give or take, once it’s mailed. eBay says authentication will be performed within 1-2 days of their receipt of the item. Then, of course, there is the time it will take them to package and ship to you (they state they will be sending items via four-day shipping). Effectively, you’re looking at another five or six days to get your cards, and that’s assuming they are shipped out as soon as they are authenticated.

Cards that may have arrived within a week’s time are suddenly at about two. Maybe longer if there are handling delays from them receiving/logging the items and sending them out.

Here’s the deal. If you are someone that has strong concerns about authenticity, another week of waiting for a card might not seem like a big deal for a little bit of peace of mind. But if you’re like me and are pretty confident in your own authentication abilities, you’re essentially getting a service you don’t really need while your cards are going to take longer to arrive. That’s unacceptable and has all the potential of a buyer’s worst nightmare.

Headaches for Obscure Issues

I’m also very interested to see how CCG/CSG handles the really obscure stuff. The reason for that is, um, I buy a lot of obscure stuff.

Case in point, I recently bought these two cards from a seller on eBay. These are very rare cards that we think are from a game. Conventional wisdom is that they had wooden pieces stuck to the bottoms to make them stand up. But that is hardly a given and the reality is, we don’t know exactly what they are. They aren’t categorized and, to date, I don’t know that more than one example of each player is known.

I’m not going to go too much into these because I plan on writing an article about them soon. But my point is, how will they treat stuff like these? These particular cards did not reach the $750 threshold but other obscure stuff certainly will. If a card is not cataloged, is it illegitimate? Not necessarily.

As a buyer of some really obscure stuff, I’m concerned about sales being canceled for stuff that I feel is legit. If anything, it would be great if an option was given to the buyer in the case of these sorts of circumstances.

It’s worth pointing out that CSG’s head vintage guy, Andy Broome, came from Beckett and Beckett had a reputation of grading a lot of unknown sort of stuff. There’s at least hope that some of the more obscure cards will not be red flagged because of that, I suppose. But I do see the potential for some problems because, determining whether an uncatalogued card is authentic or not is often not a black and white issue.

Free — But for How Long?

Another really interesting note that’s not being discussed much is the program’s cost.

As I said earlier, CCG/CSG stands to get a lot of business from this. What exactly eBay is paying them is unclear, but they mention that they are the ones eating that cost.

If you dig a little deeper, though, the long-term cost details are a bit of an unknown. eBay’s announcement page touts that the program is “No Cost to You.” However, immediately below that, it states that eBay is covering all costs ‘for a limited time.’

That’s important, obviously. It’s hard for me to see eBay passing this cost on to buyers. But sellers? I don’t know. I can see a scenario where sellers are asked to pay more for items that are forced to go through authentication. But that’s another discussion for another time.

Loopholes, Loopholes, where are the Loopholes?

There’s always a way out, right? Oh, yeah.

While this might flesh out a lot of fake cards, the reality is that sellers will find all sorts of loopholes to combat it. Fixed price listings at $749.99 or less might seem obvious. They can even play off of concerned sellers by assuring them that they’ll get their cards faster since there’s no authentication. But there’s a bigger/easier way to get around this, frankly.

In the laundry list of items that are not covered under the authenticity guarantee is the relatively broad category of ‘Sets, Lots, Kits, Decks, Boxes, and Packs of Two or More Cards.’ Many of those things don’t relate to pre-war cards but ‘sets’ and ‘lots’ sure do.

Complete pre-war sets might be a little less common but lots? Man, there are plenty of those. And by eBay’s listing, it appears that even small lots fit outside of the authenticity guarantee. So if you’ve got a lot of, say two or three cards, there doesn’t seem like there is coverage. Thus, instead of the seller of a fake Ty Cobb T206 card, conceivably putting two of those cards in the same listing can skirt the authenticity service. The list of eligible items under the program clearly states that it covers only single cards.

This seems like an enormous loophole to me. That’s not to suggest that eBay can’t or won’t still end listings that look ridiculously sketchy. But I imagine that, if my interpretation of the program is correct, you’ll see a lot more ‘lots’ and a lot less singles until eBay finds a fix.

“This Doesn’t Affect Me.” Wanna Make a Bet?

Now, you might be reading this and thinking that it won’t affect you. Many collectors, after all, have probably never bought a card worth $750 or more on eBay. But if eBay’s plans go through, this is going to expand pretty rapidly.

As stated in this article, the idea is to get the threshold way down to $250. That isn’t some far off concept, mind you. The article mentions eBay hopes to get to that amount by the middle of this year.

Further, the coverage is also expected to balloon to include other types of cards, as mentioned in that piece. Autographed cards, authentication of currently-graded cards, and for you freaks and weirdos, modern patch cards, are all expected to be included by that time, too.

You might not be buying many $750 cards but $250 cards are within the reach of a lot more folks. Plus, keep in mind, those are the short-term plans for the program. If everything goes off without a hitch, presumably, it could expand even more. Imagine if that $50 low-grade T206 of Germany Schaefer you bought suddenly has to go through this sort of authentication. If eBay is able to successfully implement this program (admittedly, a big ‘if’), I don’t know that it necessarily ends at $250.

Conclusion

I think there’s potential here, honestly. Despite all of these pitfalls, I appreciate what eBay is trying to do. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some very real concerns about it.

Plus, here’s the thing. I don’t know how valuable this particular program is for more expensive cards, anyway. Unless it’s a seller they know/trust, most buyers are going to seek out graded cards when buying more valuable stuff as it is. I get the intent and, sure, this stops a buyer doing zero research from blowing a few thousand dollars on a fake card. I just don’t know how many buyers there are that are actually doing that.

Now, where I do see real value is once the threshold is lowered. There may not be a ton of folks dropping a few grand on fake raw cards but there are plenty that will take chances on cards that are a few hundred bucks. I know because I get emails all the time from them, asking for authenticity opinions. If the program can be scaled in such a way to include those lesser cards (as is currently planned), I think there will be real value to it.

There will also be value if it extends to graded cards because lots of knowledgeable buyers can be duped by those. Cards in fake slabs is a growing problem and I think that’s a big area where CCG/CSG can help, assuming they can detect those sorts of fakes. And yes, I have thought about the intrigue behind one grading outfit authenticating cards that have been authenticated by competitors. But, no, I’m not going there right now.

The big concern here for me is simply regarding time. I shouldn’t have to wait another week when buying a card I already know is legitimate. This program, in its current form, seems to help some while making for a very tedious buying experience for others. Maybe it’s as simple as offering the service as an option to buyers instead of a mandate. Maybe it’s not going to be a mandate. I don’t know. But I have real concerns that the amount of time it takes to clear a card will not be all that timely, too.

It’s a nice idea, in theory. But I think there are all sorts of bugs to be fixed before it’s a real benefit to most.

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