How to tell a counterfeit card from a real one.
Fake Pokémon cards were a problem back in 1999 and 2000 but they faded away when the popularity of the game faded. Counterfeiters moved on to other card games that were hot at the time. However, since Pokémon has resurged in popularity, the counterfeiters have also jumped back on the Poké-bandwagon and are pumping out their fake product. And they do a pretty good job at it, too. At first glance, these cards look real. The images are correct. The Pokémon are what they should be. They have the right text, for the most part.
But they are not perfect! No, far from it. In fact, if you know what to look for, they are very easy to identify and to avoid. Very easy indeed. Let's take a look at some of the things to look for on a fake card.
Now, I could talk a lot about the variance of text font and how some of the fake cards are off in their placement of some graphic elements and text formatting, but none of that is going to be useful to the average kid or parent out in some store without a real card to compare it to. No, we're just going to stick to the things that any person can identify on their own, regardless with how familiar they are with the details of Pokémon cards. I'm also going to focus on the details of the current flood of fakes. They all come from the same source because the share the same flaws. There are some older fakes and might be a few other fakes out there that don't have these flaws, but I'll cover some other general things to look out for at the end. One final note before we begin. There is a huge difference between fake cards that are couterfeits and that are meant to deceive people into buying them instead of real card versus "fake cards" that are made by fans and feature original art and text and are meant to be fun and not to deceive or rip off. Please be aware that we have no problem with such fan cards and even host a forum on our site where members can post their fan creations. Of course, these should never be sold commercially as that would infringe on Pokémon USA's rights and trademarks.
Real -=- Fake
OK, I'm going to go back a bit on what I just said above. A person has to be somewhat familar with the details of a Pokémon card in order to identify a fake from the back, but I find it very useful to be able to do so, as it makes sorting through a large number of cards relatively easy to do. As a Tournament Organizer and Judge, I have to check a lot of cards that are used in tournaments and of course couterfeit cards are not allowed.
So, what differences do you see in the two card backs above? The most obvious thing you may notice is the difference in color. One is paler than the other. This is not a key difference to look for, though, for two reasons. One, you probably wouldn't have a real Pokémon card handy to compare with the suspected fake if you're in a retail store. But more importantly, two, there are differences in card backs from one print run to another. While Pokémon USA tries to keep the coloring on card backs as consistent as possible, there is some variation and that makes color variation alone an unreliable method to use to determine a fake. There are two key differences here that you can rely on.
First, notice how the blue border on the real card on the left is crisp all the way around. There is almost a line where it meets up with the swirly background image. Note that the counterfeit card's border is not as crisp. It kind of just fades off at the edge. You can especially notice this in the upper left and lower right.
Second, look at the light blue patch just to the right of the red top of the Poké Ball. On the real card, there is a fair amount of detail there. On the fake card, it's just a blue blob.
I can see that it might be difficult for some to notice these differences. There is a certain amount of judgement that needs to be made for these. So, let's move on the the card front and I'll show you some things to look for that take no judgement whatsoever.
Card Fronts - Trainers
Fake -=- Real
Above and below are examples of a couple of counterfeit Trainer cards beside the real McCoys. At first glance, these are almost impossible to tell apart... until you know what to look for!
I could mention the font differences. The Holon Legacy font is just about dead on perfect, but the Poke Ball font is a little bit off and most people that are experienced with the cards will pick up on that difference with little effort. But that is no use to the average person looking at the card. No, there is one mistake on these counterfeit cards that is made on every card produced by these crooks: They don't use the accent mark over the "e" in Pokémon! Take a look! Down below, they say "Each Pokemon in play..." when it should read "Each Pokémon in play..." This is a major flaw that can be used to identify almost every one of these fake cards. Heck, look at the name of the card above. "Poke Ball" instead of "Poké Ball"!!
This is something that anyone can use to pick off these fakes.
Real -=- Fake
Card Fronts - Pokémon
Real -=- Fake
Look at the artwork on these cards, above and below. Beautiful job, isn't it? Yep, there is no way the average person is going to identify these fakes from the images used on the cards. They did a very good job of getting high quality scans of the card pictures and reproducing them. So, let's look elsewhere on the card for easily identifyable flaws. First off, we still have the "Pokemon" error. That carries over into all card text that should use the word "Pokémon". You can see examples in both the Marshtomp and Larion cards. There is also the font issue, but as noted, that won't help most people. There is one more error that carries over into all the Pokémon cards that these people produce. That is their "bloated" energy symbols. Let me explain what I mean by bloated. On legitimate cards, there are energy symbols in three areas of the Pokémon cards:
Energy symbols are made up of two elements; their color and their symbol. Legitimate energy symbols have a smallish symbol with a generous border around it, allowing the color to be easily seen. The counterfiet cards, on the other hand, have what I will call bloated symbols that go up to (or almost go up to) the edge of the circle, crowding the space they reside in. This is another easily distinguished error they have made.
- The upper right, after the Hit Points. This identifies what Type the Pokémon is.
- The middle left, to the left of the Attack name(s). These tell what the energy cost of the attack are.
- All along the bottom. These identify what the Weakness, Resistance, and Retreat Costs are.
Real -=- Fake
Card Fronts - Holographic Pokémon
Real -=- Fake
We've covered the main points to look for on most cards, but there is a very obvious error that I want to make sure people are also on the lookout for in the fakes. Take a look at the two cards above. We see the four key identifiers in this card as well: "Pokemon", wrong font, bloated energy symbols, and card back (take my word on that last one).
This has one more error so blatent, that it alone flags it as a fake. Note the holographic foil pattern on the card to the left. If you were holding the real card, the background of the image would be shiny and the little star patterns would change and move as you moved the card. That's the holographic foil layer of the card shining through.
The pattern on the card on the right, however, will not change or move or shine. That's because there is no holographic foil on the card! The "star" pattern is copied directly from the original card image that they photographed and then they printed that star pattern directly onto the card! Since they didn't have original art to work from, they had to use an actual foil card to copy from and so even though there is no foil on the card, it still shows the foil pattern. If you look at it in real life, there is no question that this card is not foil.
They do make some actual foil counterfeit cards. They just don't use the right foil. If you see a gold border, that's a fake (Unless it's a Meowth from the Jungle set! That was a real promo card with a gold border). Also note that the card is a bit tilted. You will find that on a lot of the fake cards. But not always. It is one more thing to keep an eye out for, though.
You can tell if a sealed box is real or fake. A real box of Pokémon cards will have the while Pokéball image and Pokémon logo shown in the circled area in the image above. If you don't see that on the front half of the shrink wrap, don't buy the box.
Summary - What to look for
Look for these tip offs and you can avoid being ripped off:
"Pokemon" instead of "Pokémon"
Card back - fades off and blob to center right
Text font "off", but not always!
Bloated energy symbols
Holo pattern on non-holo card
I hope that these tip-offs help keep you from getting ripped off.
If you do come across counterfeit cards, you can inform Pokemon USA via the following method:
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with the following information:
Card owner's name (or parent's name) and contact information
Name and address of the store where the card was purchased
Approximate date of purchase
Scan of the card in question
Scan of the packaging (if still available)
Please make sure that it is clearly indicated in the email that you believe the card to be counterfeit.
PUI will not replace counterfeit cards with official cards. If you contact them via email, they may request that you send the card in question to them to use as part of the investigation. If a card is mailed to them and it is legitimate, it will be returned. Counterfeit cards that are mailed to Pokemon USA will not be returned.