Alan spent £500 on a boxing glove signed by Mike Tyson - then found out he'd been conned by the crooks who prey on sports fans
By PAUL THOMAS
- Alan bought the glove from Bonhams
- Auction house says it is too late to ask for a refund
- Experts share tips on how to spot fakes
The walls are filled from floor to ceiling with around 50 items of sports memorabilia, including a signed picture of David Beckham posing with wife Victoria, the glove of German golfing great Bernhard Langer and a cricket bat signed by the legendary former England batsman Sir Jack Hobbs.
Alan’s prize possession is a boxing glove signed by some of the best heavyweights ever to grace the ring — Muhammad Ali, Ken Norton, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Riddick Bowe, Larry Holmes, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson.
Low blow: The glove is one of 28 items Alan Sterling bought from Bonhams between 2000 and 2003 (photo: Jim Bennett)
Alan, a 74-year-old retired property developer, bought the glove from the world-famous auction house Bonhams for £494 in 2000.
But in September, he and his wife, Irene, 73, were watching Rip Off Britain and started to get worried.
A sports memorabilia expert, Garry King, said forged signatures were everywhere.
Alan sent Mr King a picture of his prized glove — and he got the news he’d been dreading: it was, indeed, a fake.
When Money Mail sent the picture to two other independent experts, one of them, Mark Woodhead, a valuer and auctioneer at memorabilia dealer Spirit of Sport, said the glove was ‘one of the most appalling fakes I’ve ever seen’.
Marc Mclennan, from authenticateit. co.uk, agreed.
Alan approached Bonhams to get his money back, but the auction house refused to refund the price of the glove.
A spokesman says Alan missed his only chance to complain years ago.
‘This sale took place 16 years ago, in 2000. Apart from the basic details of the sale, we no longer have any other information about it,’ the company says in a statement.
‘According to the relevant conditions of sale at the time, Mr Sterling had one year in which to return any item he believed to be a forgery.’
Prize: Alan's prize possession is a glove he believed to have been signed by the boxing greats, including Muhammed Ali (pictured) (Photo: Getty Images)
The glove is one of 28 items Alan bought from Bonhams between 2000 and 2003, and he fears others could be worth much less than he paid.
Alan says: ‘I’m a sports fanatic. I played football until I was 52, but I’ve also played cricket, squash, tennis . . . you name it. When I saw that glove I had to have it. So it was such a shame to find out it is not real.’
Sports memorabilia is big business, and some collectors spend a fortune on items worn or signed by their idols.
For example, the shorts Muhammad Ali wore in his 1963 fight against British boxer Henry Cooper at Wembley fetched £70,000 at a recent auction, while the autographs of sports stars can go for thousands of pounds.
But con artists have also identified it as an easy way to make a heap of cash for very little effort.
Perfect match: Autographs are often prized possessions of sports fans - but those who buy rather than get their own need to be careful (photo: EPA)
The problem, experts say, is that many auction houses don’t employ the specialists needed to tell fake sports items from real ones.
According to Mr King, who runs the autograph dealer Autografica, eight out of ten items of sporting memorabilia sold on auction website eBay are fakes.
‘It’s sad to see so many people buy these things and they have no comeback — there is no chance of getting your money back,’ he says.
‘These people are buying rubbish for lots of money, and yet it doesn’t take longer than ten minutes to do some checks on the item that you’re buying.’ He says to make sure you are getting an authentic item, you need to ensure you see it with your own eyes — don’t rely on a photo.
This is because fraudsters often scan copies of auction house catalogues and then pass them off as their own.
When you’re looking at the item, check for obvious signs of forgery. For example, if you’re buying a signed autograph, check the copyright on the back. Poor forgeries have been known to have displayed a copyright dated after the signatory’s death. If possible, do your homework on what the real signature looks like, and compare it to the item.
Look at the price and compare it with similar items on sale. If it’s much cheaper, it’s likely to be fake.
Do your homework on the seller, too. Have they had bad reviews online? Do they sell only through eBay (which Mr King says is a bad sign)?
If you’re still unsure, the Autograph Fair Trade Association Ltd (Aftal) was set up by a group of dealers to stamp out fake items. It lists approved dealers and authenticators on its website, aftal.org.uk, or call 01322 290394.
If you’re happy with the item, always pay by credit card. As long as the item is worth more than £100, you’ll be able to claim a refund from the card provider under section 75 of the consumer credit act if it does turn out to be fake.
Mr King says you should never buy from dealers who don’t accept cards — and don’t pay cash. ‘If you’ve done your checks and you still have your doubts, just walk away,’ he adds.