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Luke Skywalker and a California lawmaker join forces to fight fake autographs

When “Stars Wars” fandom was reaching fever pitch late last year — ahead of the premiere of “The Force Awakens” — Luke Skywalker actor Mark Hamill noticed an uptick in the number of fans asking for his help verifying his own signature on movie posters and other memorabilia.

There was only one problem: He hadn't yet signed any posters for the new movie.

“As a joke at the London premiere, I said I'd only initial posters to reflect my contributions to the movie. And even then, I only did like three of those,” Hamill told the Los Angeles Times in an interview.

So he began to tweet back to his fans with a steady stream of verdicts on their items: REAL. FAKE. REAL. FAKE, his tweets read. The requests began coming so rapidly that he decided instead to “like” the authentic examples.

Hamill's Twitter feed caught the attention of Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang (R-Diamond Bar), who already was working on a bill to crack down on fake autographed memorabilia.

Now the L.A. County Republican and the self-proclaimed liberal-leaning actor are forming an alliance in hopes of extending the protections that already apply to sports memorabilia to all signed collectibles sold by dealers.

“I got on the phone with him and it was very touching to see how passionate he was,” Chang said. “What he said to me is that his fans are like family and that he did not want to see kids being victimized as he's seen in the past. It's such an honor to have him on board with us.”

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AB 1570 would require certificates of authenticity for signed memorabilia sold by dealers in California, and entitle duped consumers to as much as 10 times the cost of the forged item in civil court. State law already offers those remedies for signed sports memorabilia.

Hamill said it made no sense that film fans don't get the same protections as sports fans. “The public is being swindled on a daily basis and the numbers are huge. I just can't keep quiet when I see people I love being hurt,” he said.

It’s an issue he’s fought throughout his career.

“The fact is, you’re stalked by these dealers that have shopping carts with 50 posters and stacks of photographs,” Hamill said. When he tries to avoid the signature hounds, he said, he ends up disappointing waiting fans too.

Hamill said he’s tried other tactics — altering his signature at one point to see if forgers would follow (they did), and trying to “sign everything under the sun” in hopes that his signature would be devalued.

“But it’s a drop in the ocean, there’s not much you can do about it,” he said.

In 1999, the FBI’s San Diego office led a massive investigation of forgery rings dubbed Operation Bullpen, which culminated with the arrest of a half-dozen forgers and the seizure of millions of dollars worth of merchandise, including a baseball supposedly signed by Mother Teresa and the autographs of George Washington, Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy.

The business of faking famous people’s John Hancocks --  according to figures released by the FBI in 2000, the most recent numbers available -- is worth as much as $900 million a year.

“In a way, it seems futile to try and counter what is clearly a very lucrative market,” Hamill said. “But we can’t let them get away with it.”

For more on California politics, follow me @cmaiduc

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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