Within the past year, $500,000 worth of cards were reported stolen from a collectors' show in Anaheim, Calif., a 1911 Honus Wagner card valued at $200,000 and a Nap Lajoie put at $40,000 were reported missing in Aspen, Colo., and Darien, Conn., respectively. An Addison, Ill., dealer last year realized that a man examing old cards had walked out with a Nolan Ryan rookie card valued at $1,200. A Plantation, Fla., dealer lost Duke Snider and Willie Mays in the same day.
Baseball cards are lucrative targets because they don't carry identifying names or serial numbers and can be quickly re-sold.
Most dealers now use locked cases, like in jewelry stores, to display valuable cards. Malnick has window grating, an alarm system and video camera.
Jozwiak turned over his findings to the state attorney's office. Malnick said police he's talked to in crime-plagued South Florida seem reluctant to divert personnel to card fraud. "I think they've got so many other problems, they don't want to open up a new area," he said.
Malnick worries that many cheated customers will be turned off from the hobby.
Card company officials, who say they expect continued growth, if not the explosiveness of recent years, say they are beefing up security staffs to seek out fraud which they believe represents only a small percentage of the indsutry.
For now, they say, the safest course is for young card-buyers to try to get to know their dealers and to be cautious. At shopping-mall card shows, which sometimes attract stolen-card sellers, counterfeiters and gamblers who lure kids by offering card prizes at dice games with stacked odds, Malnick suggests that buyers ask for some form of identification, ideally a sales license or sales-tax number.
Orve Johansson, who says he was the first dealers in the Tampa Bay area in 1982, won't let cheaters spoil his enjoyment.
"They seem to weed themselves out of the business," Johansson said. "To me, there's no greater thrill than seeing a kid save his money, pay for a pack, then open it up and find a Jose Canseco rookie card. That's my high."