Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) - Whether it's Hollywood celebrities, A-list athletes or rock stars - for many fans, getting an autograph is a dream come true. And the FBI says it's a billion-dollar a year business. But how much of it is the real deal?
Retired musician Steve Comolli collects autographed posters and photos of his favorite classic rock icons and celebrities.
"That's Jimmy," says Steve referring to a Jimi Hendrix item. "His signature on a photo of him playing."
Steve bought most of his memorabilia at Antiquities International in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. A Marilyn Monroe handbag, Jimi Hendrix autographed lyrics for Rainy Day Dream Away, a poster of George Harrison signed by the Beatle himself. And an autographed photo of Judy Garland.
All together it was an approximate $20,000 investment but when Steve set out to sell his treasures so he could buy a home?
Steve: "I couldn't basically...couldn't pawn them or sell them or auction them."
Steve: "They all claimed that it wasn't authentic."
Steve asked two Beverly Hills auction houses for help, but they could not authenticate the Jimi Hendrix lyrics.
Heritage Auctions told Steve via email "...sadly, this writing doesn't match up to other exemplars Heritage has on file so we won't be able to help with this Hendrix piece."
Julien's Auctions wrote him saying, "Unfortunately we are not comfortable with the authenticity of the lyrics and would not be able to assist...selling them at auction."
Steve eventually was able to recoup some of his money after Antiquities International took back the Monroe purse and Hendrix lyrics.
But the problem for many consumers is there's no one policing those who sell memorabilia to make sure the stuff is genuine. Memorabilia items signed by the artist or athletes while the fans watch is the only 100% guarantee that what you've got is authentic.
The industry uses third-parties who issue Certificates of Authenticity. While some claim to use scientific methods, there's no government oversight or standard.
One of those companies that's considered an industry leader, James Spence Authentication (JSA), recently examined Steve's George Harrison poster and concluded it's "..not, in fact, an authentic example."
"With rare exception, autographs in Las Vegas should stay in Vegas," says Steve Cyrkin who runs "Autograph Live" a blog where "collectors and experts... help protect each other against buying forgeries..."
Something the FBI is all too familiar with.
"It's very common," says Supervisory Agent Jose Perez. "It's obviously something that there's a lot of money to be made in fake memorabilia."
Agent Perez says it often boils down to buyer beware. "If it's too good to be true, it probably is."
The owner of Antiquities International declined to talk with us on camera but says she's run an honest business for 35 years and claims everything in her store is certified and genuine. If you're buying memorabilia, be sure you trust the seller. And know the store or website's return and guarantee policy before you buy.