Chill Clinton is a trading card enthusiast and investor who operates an online trading card store.
Eager investors with some extra cash to spend on their favorite trading cards often choose to go the route of purchasing authenticated and graded PSA slabs available through marketplaces like eBay, Facebook Market, and local trading card conventions. However, this authenticated collectibles market is a prime target of fraudsters willing to take advantage of less-experienced collectors by selling them counterfeit PSA slabs that are worthless. These fake slabs may land their unwitting owners in hot water when they attempt to resell them.
Fortunately, you can learn the telltale signs of a fake PSA slab so you can buy with confidence, and you can also employ a few tricks to decrease your chance of encountering them in the first place.
Examine the Label
As of 2017, PSA has introduced a number of advanced security features in order to make labels more difficult to fraudulently recreate. Though older PSA slabs do not look like this, most of the PSA slabs in market circulation will bear labels that resemble the image above. To observe these differences, I recommend reading this article from PSA.
When observing a label, you should first verify its certification number and QR code. You can do this by scanning the QR code with your phone's camera app and ensuring that it reaches a profile of the slabbed card on the official PSA website. Check that all of the information listed on the website, including certification number, condition, and any special designations such as first edition, corresponds to information on the label.
However, you cannot stop there, because fraudsters are often sophisticated enough to replicate legitimate labels, so you'll also want to closely inspect the other features listed above. I find the hardest to replicate is the subtle PSA lighthouse logo with the border of smaller PSA logos that can only be seen when directly reflecting light. If you find that these tiny logos are always visible or seem almost like the more traditional-appearing foil in the center of the back of the label, it is likely fraudulent.
Another safety feature that is difficult to replicate is the fugitive ink graphic pattern that is a very faint blue and can best be seen when passing light through the back of the label. If you don't see this ink graphic, you are likely handling a fake!
Check the Quality of the Plastic Holder
Some counterfeit PSA slabs are created using similar-appearing plastic holders available to the market, and others come as a result of tampering with legitimate PSA slabs—for example, the fraudster might replace cards with those of worse condition or with entirely fake cards.
Fortunately, PSA slabs have a very specific quality of plastic that is nearly impossible to recreate, and they're also tamper-proof, so both counterfeiting techniques are easy to spot.
PSA slabs are sealed using ultrasonic bonding, which is common in commercial plastics production but not commercially accessible. This process uses high-frequency sounds to apply pressure to either side of the slab until a seal is created. During this process, the seal is rendered so airtight that the once-flexible pieces of plastic making up the slab are completely rigid.
However, if a slab is sealed without this process, such as with manual pressure or glue, the seal will not be tight enough to harden the plastic. Additionally, if anyone cracks a legitimate PSA slab, the plastic will again become flexible and cannot be returned to its previous state except through ultrasonic bonding.
Finally, observe the bottom right corner of the slab's face. Legitimate PSA slabs will feature a small PSA logo that is slightly raised from the plastic.
Final Tips to Help You Avoid Scams
- Especially when purchasing rarer PSA slabs, it can never hurt to bring another experienced trading card collector with you. Legitimate sellers will understand your apprehension when spending hundreds or thousands on a PSA slab, and they should not take offense to you and a friend closely examining it to ensure its authenticity. Assuming that your transaction is taking place in a secure public venue such as a convention, if a seller refuses to allow you to handle the slab you intend to purchase, consider this a red flag.
- Unless you are experienced at identifying PSA slabs, do not purchase them in cash deals via transactions set up through Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or other platforms where you are not provided with buyer protection.
- If you purchase a PSA slab online through a marketplace with buyer protection such as eBay or Tcgplayer.com, ensure that the seller has a clear picture of the front and back of the slab, and try to verify the authenticity of the label to the best of your ability before making your purchase. Additionally, always use a credit card so that you can dispute charges directly with your credit card provider if you are sent a fraudulent item.
Each PSA slab is a one-of-a-kind item that can add value and collectability to your trading card collection. However, before you spend your hard-earned money on your favorite Gem Mint pieces, you have to understand the risks inherent to PSA slab collecting.
Fortunately, PSA has provided a number of security features that make it easy for collectors to distinguish legitimate slabs from fraudulent ones, between their elaborate labels, certification verification database, and tamper-proof ultrasonically bonded slabs. Therefore, with experience observing these traits, you can quickly become an expert at spotting fake PSA slabs, and never find yourself swindled by an unscrupulous seller!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.