"When I started collecting, I thought 90% of doing my homework meant getting a letter of authenticity," says Eric Stengel, a New York writer and collector. "But we learned that many of the people writing those certificates of authenticity were the same person selling the item. There were a lot of conflicts of interest and no checks and balances. It happened over and over."
Stengel - the husband of Daily News film critic Elizabeth Weitzman - founded GameUsedForum.com in January 2005 as a way for collectors to swap expertise and watch each others' backs in what has long been a dog-eat-dog world of sports collectibles. In the early days, the site drew less than two dozen regulars, but less than two years later it boasts a cast of thousands. The forum has become a formidable weapon against memorabilia fraud - for the first time in history, crooked dealers and authenticators know somebody is watching them.
"Our regulars are people who know a lot about specific areas - the 1970s Baltimore Orioles, for example - and they are willing to share that information with other collectors. It has helped clean up the hobby."
After almost two years, Stengel is selling the forum to Game Used Universe, a company that runs a collector-oriented Web site. "It became too much of a full-time job," Stengel says. "But I'm proud of the fact that we've given people an opportunity to do real research before they spend a lot of money."