State Of The Hobby – Can We Trust The Card Graders?

Updated Oct 04, 2023

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I’m sure by now you’ve heard of the scandal that has rocked the sports card hobby. If not, the quick and dirty is that a notorious card doctor and the trimmer was buying lower-graded cards, trimming them, and then resubmitting them to PSA.

All of this was done with the help of PWCC, the big eBay auction house, although the company has denied any wrongdoing to date. 

Let’s face it; PSA, SGC, and Beckett are just third-party authenticators.  There is no guarantee that the graders will get it right, intentionally or not.  It’s now on us to be a ‘fourth party grader’ to ensure we are not getting scammed.  

Yet the graders provide a level of ‘certainty’ in what used to be a very uncertain marketplace.  But with the recent events, should we still trust the third-party graders?  Is there any indication that PSA or other graders have knowingly graded altered cards?

In this piece, I review the history of the grading companies, what has transpired in recent years, and whether we, as collectors, should continue to rely on the graders to provide this consistency to our beloved hobby.

I’ve also surveyed All Vintage Cards followers for their own feedback and will present the results after this article.

A Look Back at PSA’s Checkered History

Card grading (or ‘slabbing’ as some call it) is a big business. PSA, the hobby’s largest card grader and a part of the publicly-traded company Collector’s Universe (CLCT), saw a 33% increase in card grading revenues last quarter.   There is absolutely no lack of demand for card grading services.

PSA started in July of 1991 when David Hall, owner of the biggest coin grading company PCCG, decided to launch a separate card grading service.  PSA wasn’t the first, however, as Alan Hager founded ASA before the formation of PSA.

Hager actually patented the card grading holder and the grading system (1-10) and licensed it to PSA and other card grading companies.  From what I’ve learned, Hager was doctoring many of his own cards and encapsulating them in ASA holders. Thus if you find an ASA-graded card, tread carefully.

Check Out Our Derek Jeter Rookie Card Guide, Gallery and Investment Ideas

PSA’s first graded card was the controversial T206 Honus Wagner, owned at the time by Wayne Gretzky.  Gretzky and partner Bruce McNall (former owner of the LA Kings) sent it into PSA to be authenticated.  The Wagner card helped fuel the growth of PSA, as so intricately described over at

The famed ‘Gretzky’ Wagner T206 card

The Wagner card was later found to be trimmed and still resides in the PSA 8 graded slab in which it was first encapsulated.  Peter Nash at Hauls of Shame notes that Bill Hughes, the PSA grader responsible for grading the Wagner card, knew it was trimmed at the time.  In Nash’s own words:

PSA grader Bill Hughes (who had graded the card with Hall in 1991) told O’Keeffe he knew the card had been trimmed and altered when he graded and authenticated it in 1991.  In a 2005 interview Hughes told O’Keeffe, “I was aware it was part of a strip.  We (PSA) were aware of that when the card came to PSA and I graded the card.  This card was obviously cut, but if it had been a disgusting card that was cut, of course we would have graded it trimmed.”

The trimming of the Wagner card was somewhat common knowledge at the time and left some wondering about the legitimacy of PSA, despite PSA seeing a significant ramp in demand for its services.

Grantland put together an excellent documentary on the trimming scandal which can be found here. This CNBC video from its series American Greed also details the acts of Bill Mastro, who was responsible for trimming the Wagner and pleaded guilty to initially trimming the Wagner card, but not until 2013.

Amazingly, PSA founder David Hall (as shown in the Grantland doc) still denies that the Wagner is trimmed to this day.  I’m assuming this is to cover his you know what, since many experts, including the ever-knowledgeable Keith Olbermann (no fan of the card graders), has boldly voiced their beliefs that it is a trimmed card. 

"The expertise is the fraud. If you turn down a lot of baseball cards of prominence and fame as inauthentic you are not going to be approached very often to grade baseball cards. It has been in every one's vested interest that none of this skulduggery be true because
the rising tide does lift all boats."


Keith Olbermann

Trimming Scandal of 2019 – Enter The Card Doctors

PSA had gone more than 25+ years without significant issues until 2019, when the mother of all card grading scandals hit the hobby.

It all started when some seriously astute collectors at Blowout Forums started to pick up on several cards that appeared to be trimmed.

They noticed that these suspect cards had once been encapsulated by one of the graders and later trimmed and re-submitted, receiving a higher grade.


And the majority of these trimmed cards were graded by PSA and BGS, ultimately sold by prominent eBay seller PWCC.  

PWCC had a good relationship with one of the bigger card trimmers–Gary Moser, who is now with PSA, and PWCC is under investigation by the FBI.  From the Washington Post:

"Investigators are asking questions about one such alleged doctor, Gary Moser, who is implicated by the online research, according to the four collectors who have talked to the FBI. Investigators are also asking about other smaller-scale doctors, along with PSA’s grading practices and an Oregon-based auction house, PWCC, according to those four collectors."

Brent Hugiens, the owner of PWCC released a statement online saying that they were aware of the trimmed cards from Moser saying that they were "working with both PSA and law enforcement" to unearth all of the trimmed cards in question.  He also accepted responsibility for the trimmed and that they weren't selling any more Moser related cards.  

Yet, PWCC hasn't halted any operations; it still remains one of the biggest card sellers on eBay.  How did PWCC not know that it was selling altered cards?  Or did it?  Note that Moser had a bad reputation in the hobby, so PWCC should had some sort of suspicion that the pristine cards Moser was consigning had to have been trimmed.


Do we still believe that PWCC has a reputation 'built on trust"?

Steve Sloan, President of PSA issued a statement claiming that they were 'aware of the recent hobby message board activity and conducting its own investigation into the matter' while blaming the events on 'a few dishonest actors'.  

Now, who do we believe?  Was PSA in cahoots with PWCC or was this just a simple error on the part of some PSA graders?  If they just plain missed the trims, shouldn't we question the competence of PSA (and other graders)?  

Joe Orlando CEO of Collector's Universe (which owns PSA) spoke at an investor conference last year and noted that in many cases, cards are graded in around 30 seconds. That to me was a little bit of a shock.  

In addition, Orlando spoke about how there are different experts for different types of sets, which makes me wonder how it could be that PSA got duped so many different times with the submissions from Moser and other scammers.  Note as shown on many of the Blowout forum posts, there were all different years and types of cards being trimmed--some vintage and some new. 

And one point to make there is that we also have different experts. So, for example, we're not going to put our most expensive senior expert on a Pokémon card versus a 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth or a high-end coin versus a coin from the mint. So, we have different experts at different levels. They're compensated at different levels which can help keep our costs in line, so we could stay profitable. As a matter of fact, because of the speed element, there are certain segments of our business on, what we refer to as, modern bulk that are actually as profitable or more profitable than the vintage services because of that efficiency.
-Joe Orlando, CEO Collector's Universe speaking at Needham Growth Conference - Jan 15, 2019

What Safeguards Exist To Prevent This From Happening Again?

In all reality, none.  We still don’t know what’s happening with the FBI Investigation.  Maybe PWCC or even PSA get a slap on the wrist, or maybe they are forced to compensate the holders of all trimmed cards found in the scandal.  Note that PSA provides a guarantee on any of it’s graded cards.

Q: Do you guarantee the grades for my cards?
A: PSA guarantees that all cards submitted to it shall be graded in accordance with PSA grading standards and under the procedures of PSA. If PSA, in fact, concludes that the card in question no longer merits the PSA grade assigned or fails PSA’s authenticity standards, PSA will either: 1) Buy the card from the submitter at the current market value if the card can no longer receive a numerical grade under PSA’s standards, or 2) Refund the difference in value between the original PSA grade and the current PSA grade if the grade is lowered. In this case, the card will also be returned to the customer along with the refund for the difference in value.

If PSA did not knowingly grade the altered cards, then there are some problems with it’s process.  When you are part of a publicly traded company there are certain pressures and demands that other private companies don’t have to deal with.  It could be the case that in it’s quest for higher profits, PSA has forced it’s graders to take on too much.  While it might seem cool, the life of a card grader doesn’t all that glamorous.  

Thus, PSA and other grading companies need to step up their technology investments to ensure that a situation like the Moser scandal doesn’t happen again. It all seems so archaic to me.

Unfortunately, I haven’t heard any details from PSA or other graders about investing in new technologies such as artificial intelligence and/or facial recognition. How is it that I can save a Photo on Google Photos, and it knows every single person in the photo, yet PSA, SGC, or BGS aren’t capable of identifying cards that have been trimmed?

I’m no AI expert, but it seems simple to me.  Every time your grader gets a new card, there should be one first scan/check to verify if that card had been through the system before. And this would be a coordinated system between all third-party grading companies so that the shared database would inform a grader if any of the grading companies at some point graded the card in front of them.   

I haven’t heard a peep from any grading companies, but if they would like to contact me, I’d be happy to discuss and report back the findings if they are indeed working on advancements in the space.  

Details of the Third Party Grader Feedback Survey

As noted at the start of this piece, we conducted a survey of All Vintage Cards subscribers to get their feedback on the state of the grading companies.

The results proved a few things.  One, that 100% of collectors that I surveyed felt that grading companies were a needed part of the hobby.  100%.


However, collectors have lost trust in the card graders.  100% of respondents said they have some concerns with PSA.  Some complain about grading costs, but it mostly just comes down to overall trust levels. Thankfully prices have started to come down following many pandemic driven price hikes.


However SCG scored higher from a trust perspective with 57% of respondents saying that SGC was 'Totally Trustworthy'.


And SGC also edged out PSA as the most 'Trustworthy Grader'.  I think it's quite likely that collectors have been swayed by the latest Moser/PWCC/PSA news.


Yet while SGC is viewed at the most trustworthy, PSA is viewed as the most accurate as shown below.


Collectors most definitely have their concerns about the grading companies, yet believe that grading is a needed part and valued resource for the hobby.  If there's a message for any of the grading companies it's this; tighten up your processes, invest in new technologies and put in safeguards to ensure that something like the Moser scandal never happens again. 

I've personally used PSA for years, but like the collectors interviewed for this survey, I have my concerns.  I also believe that the graders are a needed part of our hobby and help provide order and uniformity to grading and card pricing.  I ultimately hope that PSA comes out from the Moser investigation accused of no wrongdoing, yet even so, they really need to step up their game.  

All Vintage Cards

About the author

Chris Rogers, is the founder of All Vintage Cards. Launched in 2018, All Vintage Cards is the hobby's leading resource for vintage sports cards. Chris is also the author of 'The Complete Guide To Selling Your Sports Cards'. Chris remains an avid collector and can be reached at

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  1. My biggest concern with card grading is whether you will actually get back the same card you send in. Once it is out of your possession, it could be lost or stolen anywhere along the way. If the card grading companies are receiving that many cards at once, then who’s to say someone there wouldn’t decide to exchange your perfectly mint extremely valuable card for another of the same card that is not is as good condition, and how could you ever possibly prove that the card you got back is not the same card you sent?

    1. Anything is certainly possible, however, the big grading companies have steps and processes to help eliminate this sort of error. This is why I definitely suggest that before submitting that you do take a lot of high quality photos. I have certainly seen instances where the grading companies damage the card in some ways; it’s not common but it can happen and you would have some recourse if you can prove that they damaged your card.

  2. What guarantees are in place to assure the cards you submit are the cards you receive after grading? Where opportunity for deception exists, there are those that will take advantage of that opportunity. Greed is a motivator that some cannot ignore. I could take numerous photos of cards I possess, and the grader could argue that the photos have been manipulated to enhance their appearance, thus you have a catch 22 scenario with no resolution. Grading cards appears to me to be a con game, used to embezzle money from those possessing valuable cards. I am naturally a skeptic with any enterprise that has the ability to take possession of something, then return it, encased with a supposed grade for value purposes.

    1. Technically not much James. I encourage everyone submitting for grading to take very detailed photos of their cards before shipping. I don’t think the grading companies are out to steal cards, I would be more worried about accidental damage when removing them from the packaging.

  3. Read this email exchange with PSA. PSA has become a complete scam.

    ##- Please type your reply above this line -##
    Your request (455777) has been updated. To add additional comments, reply to this email.

    Jonathan (Collectors Universe)
    May 25, 2022, 16:03 PDT

    Hello Michael,

    We completely understand it can be frustrating when there is a difference in opinion regarding the condition of your item. However, it is important to note that we have a minimum of two or more, professional graders review your item and they must agree upon a grade. Although their opinion may differ from your personal perception of the item in question, please know that differences of opinion can occur when determining the quality of any item.

    Nevertheless, PSA is here to provide a third-party, unbiased opinion to ensure that our customers (whether a buyer, seller or collector) receive the most accurate estimation of the item. Please read through the PSA Grading Standards available online to gain insight as to why our graders may have provided the result listed on the item.

    If you still disagree with the results, you may resubmit it for Review; however, this is a paid-for service, and you will be responsible for the full grading fee and shipping charges.

    PSA can review any card(s) that you feel warrants a different grade. To utilize our Review service, please fill out a submission form via the Online Submission Center and select “Review” as the Submission Type. Then select the appropriate Service Level.

    Best regards,

    PSA Customer Service

    Privileged and Confidential Communication. This electronic transmission, and any documents
    attached hereto, (a) are protected by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act
    (18 USC §§ 2510-2521), (b) may contain confidential and/or legally privileged
    information, and (c) are for the sole use of the intended recipient named
    above. If you have received this electronic message in error, please notify the
    sender and delete the electronic message. Any disclosure, copying,
    distribution, or use of the contents of the information received in error is
    strictly prohibited.

    Michael Newman
    May 25, 2022, 06:59 PDT

    This is a follow-up to your previous request #450770 "PSA Customer Request Center…"

    Hi Jonathan,

    I’m really not trying to be difficult but that answer is not acceptable to me. If the 2 graders don’t have notes on the cards to compare how can they possibly agree upon a grade? I read through the link you sent. Even by your standards for a GEM Mint 10 grade: “an allowance may be made for a slight printing imperfection”

    – When I bought my wife’s engagement ring, I was given a document which explained the flaws so if the diamond ever needed to be resold, the next purchaser would know.

    – When someone buys a used car they get a CarFax report to discover the flaws in the vehicle.

    – When I bought my house I had someone come to check the foundation and the structural integrity and then was given a report on the findings.

    See where I’m going? I do not find it unreasonable to ask and then be presented with a brief synopsis of what the defects are.

    I have been buying Pokemon cards for my children for the past 7 years, we are collectors and keep them in immaculate condition. In fact my kids don’t even PLAY the game itself.

    I will say again without any hesitation 2 out of the 3 cards should have been GEMs. We are the original purchasers and owners. They were taken right from the opened pack, inspected, sleeved, then shipped to PSA. I would not have had them graded if they weren’t perfect. (we learned our lesson with a couple cards we had graded last year.)\

    One of the reasons I think something there is flawed is that one of the 3 cards submitted was received in trade at a local library Pokemon event. It clearly had VISIBLE flaws, something which the other 2 did not.
    So if one of the cards has visible flaws and the other do not, how can they all be graded the same?

    It’s common knowledge that since the beginning of the pandemic card collecting has seen a huge increase and as a result, PSA has had to hire a lot of new people in the last year or so to keep up with the submissions. Is it possible that quality control has diminished and that maybe inexperienced graders looked at these cards? I don’t think that’s unreasonable to assume…

    As you know, the value of the card from 9 to Gem practically doubles on these cards. Which is why I am requesting a complimentary resubmission of 2 of the 3 cards to be re-evaluated. I say this again with the utmost confidence. There is no way 2 of these cards are not Gem 10.

    Thank you.
    Michael Newman

    On May 19, 2022, at 10:59 AM, PSA Customer Service <> wrote:


    This email is a service from Collectors Universe. Delivered by Zendesk

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