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Monday, January 18, 2016

Luke Skywalker Cracks Down on Fake Autograph Dealers in California

Posted By on Mon, Jan 18, 2016 at 12:19 PM

click to enlarge PHILIP BOND/FLICKR
  • Philip Bond/Flickr
Fake autographs generate more than $900 million a year, according to the FBI. Star Wars actor Mark Hamill knows better than most just how much rabid fans will shell out for signed memorabilia — and how often they’re duped by clever con artists.

That’s why he’s teaming up with California Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang (R-Diamond Bar) to crack down on unscrupulous autograph dealers. The pair’s proposed bill, AB 1570, would require certificates of authenticity for autographed merchandise sold in California, and also entitle fleeced consumers to as much as 10 times the cost of the forged item. As the Los Angeles Times reports, those protections already exist for autographed sports memorabilia.

“The public is being swindled on a daily basis and the numbers are huge. I just can't keep quiet when I see people I love being hurt,” Hamill told the LA Times.

In 1999, the FBI’s San Diego office investigated forgery rings as part of a massive effort dubbed Operation Bullpen. Per the LA Times, a half-dozen forgers were arrested and millions of dollars worth of fraudulent merchandise was seized, including a baseball supposedly signed by Mother Teresa.

Hamill is frustrated that sports fans are protected from dummy autographs while movie fans aren’t. As SF Weekly reported in July, investigations of counterfeit sports memorabilia in the Bay Area are deadly serious, involving U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security, and various other national and international agencies.

Last year, during the NBA finals, federal agencies confiscated about 14,000 counterfeit items, valued at approximately $500,000. Many of those items were counterfeit Warriors merchandise.

Whether we’ll see a similar haul when the Super Bowl comes to town remains to be seen. But if Hamill gets his wish, at least those signed Force Awakens posters will be worth more than the paper they’re printed on.

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Jeremy Lybarger


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