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The Curious Case Of Why Some Collectors Are Buying Used Sports Card Redemptions

buying used redemption cards

You may have seen this while scouring for good deals. People advertising sports card redemptions that have already been used. That may not be all that surprising.

After all, people will sell just about anything on that forum. But what is weird is that people buy them as well.

Is there some angle behind this move? Are people able to use these in a scam of some kind? Or are the people buying this not carefully reading the listing? We took a look at who is buying used sports card redemptions and why.

What are redemptions?

If you are here, you probably know what a sports card redemption is. But if you don’t, here is a brief primer. When a sports card company hasn’t gotten an auto in time to release one of its products, it will often include a card, which is a sort of IOU to the buyer. It guarantees that while the autographed card is not present in the pack, it will be delivered later.

The buyer must follow a procedure to receive the card in question. They will put a code into the manufacturer’s website and provide an address where the card can be delivered once made available.

Why are these necessary? Redemptions are most common in products with on-card autos. That is because the process of getting a player to sit down and sign a stack of cards is more complicated than stickers.

You can send stickers out at any time to be signed by the athlete, even well in advance. Meanwhile, there is only a short window between when a card is printed and the release date. That often means scheduling problems prevent the signing from happening on time.

Why? As this user on Reddit said, “What if I told you that sometimes, players have lives outside of basketball? Family, friends, entourage, other businesses on the side, strip clubs, groupies, a 2nd family. And that’s on top of regular season games and practice and traveling to away games.”

The controversy surrounding redemptions

Redemptions are a pretty controversial part of the hobby. In fact, Topps is trying to phase them out. They will not be missed. Especially since Panini and other companies sometimes take eons to fulfill them.

There have also been cases of redemptions people have been waiting patiently for years to receive popping up elsewhere. Still, until they are eliminated, redemptions remain an essential part of the hobby and can be found all over eBay.

If you have more questions, we already have an entire article on this issue on the Cardlines website.

OK, so what is the point of buying a used redemption?

That is a great question (especially since I am the one who asked it). Once you have entered the card manufacturer’s website and entered the code, the redemption card appears utterly worthless.

The website does not, or at least should not, accept the same code more than once. At that point, the redemption becomes an utterly worthless piece of cardboard. They aren’t even particularly attractive. So why should anyone want one?

Gullible and stupid people

If you advertise something on eBay that is clearly misleading, there is a very good chance you will be forced to provide a refund to the buyer.

According to the official eBay policies, “Sellers are required to deliver the item as described in the listing. If the buyer receives the wrong item or arrives broken, damaged, or faulty (and was not clearly described as such), they are entitled to return it for a refund, even if the seller doesn’t offer returns.”

There is no question that a used redemption that has been advertised as one that can be used falls in the definition of “broken, damaged, or faulty (and was not clearly described as such).”

But of course, if the card is clearly described as a used redemption, the buyer has no leg to stand on when trying to get a refund, at least if the seller has a clear and established no-returns policy.

Therefore, it is possible that sellers are advertising these used redemption cards in the hopes that someone will be too inexperienced to notice that the redemption is used. There is no shortage of people who fall for scams. As the great showman P. T. Barnum  once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

One user on Reddit explained how they tried to cancel a purchase of a redemption like this with a seller: “Asked a seller to cancel a transaction when I purchased a redemption like this by mistake (luckily only $8), and he threatened to give me terrible buyer feedback on eBay if I did… I just took the hit on the $8, but he quickly begged me to reverse the 1-star seller review I left him… oh, how the turntables.”

I assume they mean the table turns, not that they bought a turntable. If they did, I hope it worked.

I managed to track down someone who bought a redemption card off eBay and asked what had happened. This individual was somewhat embarrassed and preferred not to have their full name revealed.

When asked why they bought a used redemption, this person explained, “I bought a redemption for a Dame Lillard auto for very cheap, thinking maybe because it was a redemption, they were going to sell it for very low. I realized something was wrong when a friend told me that the redemption was probably used at that price. I freaked out, but it was already too late.”

What can you do with a used redemption

While there is no shortage of gullible folks in the hobby, we may have even more folks looking for easy money. There is one thing you can do with a redemption card that is easy and effective.

Topps and Panini have policies for replacing damaged cards. That often pertains to redemption cards that have gone through the wringer. Indeed, both companies have been known to redeem cards that have been scratched so hard you could no longer read the number.

On Blowout Forums, this eventuality was discussed in November 2021. The original poster asked, “I tried to scratch a Kelenic Topps Chrome auto redemption yesterday, and unfortunately, I scratched through the code. I’ve done dozens of redemption codes before without issue, but this one was flawed and scratched the code clean off (I can’t read any of the digits).

That being said, I mailed the damaged card to Topps (I followed the directions on the back), and I was wondering if anyone has had a similar situation happen and what your outcome was. Thanks.”

One helpful account answered, “I have had it happen a few times… I take a pic for my records of both sides and mail it in. Topps has then manually added it to my account.” Others said they had the same experience and found no problem getting the redeemed card.

There seem to be many other cases where something similar happened. One person posted the destroyed code on Reddit and asked for advice on what to do next.

The user wrote, “My redemption code fell apart when I scratched it? Did I get scammed?” To which some amusing users asked, “Holy hell, what did you scratch it with a bayonet?”

But a more sympathetic user noted, “It doesn’t take much AT ALL to make it look like that. For my last redemption, I used a lightly abrasive cloth (like a face scrubber), took a lot of time, had good lighting, and half of the digits were completely illegible. It’s a cheap design that is (in my cynical opinion) designed to prevent them from all being redeemed.”

The perfect crime?

I am sure these folks are above the level and over-scratched their cards. But buying a used redemption would be very easy and make it look like you accidentally over-scratched the card.

You could earn significant money if you purchased a used redemption of a highly valuable card for very little because it was used and managed to trick Topps or Panini like this would undoubtedly explain some of the purchases of used redemptions on eBay.

One seller noted on Reddit that, “Yes. This is what a ton of people do. I have sold many of these and been told that is the plan. Hey, whatever.”

However, this does not always work. One unfortunate individual on Redditt found that things didn’t go his way when dealing with a similar case:

“I had a legitimate redemption that I pulled – it was just a David Robertson rookie base auto – and the scratch-off stuff was impossible to get off without ruining the code. I had never had one that was as difficult as this card. I ended up with a code that I could not read 4 of the digits. I tried everything but ended up contacting Panini, and they rejected it and didn’t offer me anything. The redemption was 3 months from expiring, so I don’t know if that had something to do with it, but I was never able to get the card.”

Indeed, from anecdotal evidence, it appears that Topps is far more willing to help out individuals with damaged redemption cards than their colleagues at Panini. That will surprise no one who has dealt with Panini on the matter of redemptions. They generally seem to do what they can to be unhelpful. However, there have been some improvements recently. But that also means the company is less likely to get scammed this way.

Are people buying them intentionally?

It appears that at least some people know that the cards they are getting are used redemptions and want to purchase them anyway. Seems weird? It does to me. But there are a couple of explanations.

Some collectors like to match the redemption with the card it represents. Therefore, they may have bought the redeemed card and want to own a redemption that can pair it with. One buyer I talked to, Tom from Indiana, told Cardines, “I like to have the pair for the redemptions. I’m a bit OCD and like to have full sets of everything.”

A user on Blowout Forums agreed with this assessment and explained, “Personally, as a completion to owning the “redeemed” card. For example, I collect Jose Cruz cards and have a 1997 Pinnacle Certified Cruz RC issued as a redemption. I’m searching for the most useless card on the planet and can’t find it because it’s buried in people’s junk boxes in a closet. I’d love to land one just to have it with the redeemed card.”

A user on Reddit also buys used redemptions intentionally for collecting purposes. He wrote, “People collect what they collect. Hell, I would possibly consider getting one if the player is right. As long as the seller shows the scratched redemption, then it is an honest sale. Not everyone is out to scheme people. I sell people base cards. Some people collect just base cards. I collect every card I can find of certain players. And I would collect a damaged or badly centered card if the player is right.”

One eBay seller I talked to from one of the biggest online sellers on eBay told Cardlines that the redemptions sometimes serve as a stopgap for a really big card they cannot afford. He told me, “This guy wanted an Ohtani rookie auto but couldn’t afford one. So, he told me a redemption was as close as he would get.” Fair enough.

In other words, if you are enough of a completist, you might want the redemption cards of your favorite player. I can imagine a situation where this makes sense to me. For example, if I have a very valuable numbered auto Bowman 1st, displaying it next to the redemption could be fantastic.  

There is another angle here that is worth noting. When a card has a very low population, the redemption is also. Commented, “They can be just as rare as the actual card. Say Mike Trout’s Chrome autos were redemptions. The redemption for his superfractor auto is just as rare as the card itself. And I’m willing to bet many people would pay good money for the redemption card.”

The prices of used redemptions

One clue to the intentions of eBay sellers is the price they charge for these expired redemptions. No seller I contacted was willing to admit that they were trying to scam people. Indeed, most did not answer me because this topic is pretty sensitive.

But if the card’s price is symbolic, they are likely trying to sell it to completists or strange people who buy used redemptions for some other reason.

But we have spotted some listings with outrageously high prices.

For example, this listing for a “Shohei Otani 2018 Dynasty Auto Patch Gold Parallel RC 1/1 Used Redemption Card.”

The word used is certainly in there, though not as prominently as it could be. But the $600 price seems like an intentional attempt to trap buyers. It’s worth noting that in cases like this when the card is a 1/1, there is no chance of fooling Topps.

There is only one redemption out there, and it has been used. Furthermore, there shouldn’t even be a card to give away since the Otani is purported to be a 1/1.

I also found a 2022 Topps Clearly Authentic Julio Rodriguez Purple Redemption /10 CAA-JR USED listing on eBay for $200.

Another was a 2019 Topps Chrome Sapphire Fernando Tatis Jr. RC AUTO #/25 Used Redemption, listed for $99. Those may be banking on being numbered and hoping someone will want the redemption for that reason.

What sellers are saying

I asked the seller of the Ohtani card, Scott from MidWest Lucky One; he said the price was high because there are serious Ohtani collectors in Japan.

He elaborated, Some people collect them; I sold another expired 1/1 Ohtani dynasty redemption for $350 that someone in Japan bought.” He also noted that a lot of people are interested. Scott said, “Also, it brings many people to wherever I list it, and it gets about 4000 to 5000 views in a month.”

Another seller told me, “I am only selling this because some collectors buy them. I have no idea why.”

Meanwhile, another seller told Cardlines, “Yes, people buy them. The card sold for 13k I hit, so there is value for someone. There are sold ones on eBay in completed sales. If I had taken people’s advice on what things are worth vs what I get, I would have lost $225,000 in the card business.”

There certainly appears to be a market for these used redemptions.

The final word on why collectors are buying used redemptions

There is a surprising amount of interest surrounding used redemption cards. Some of it is probably a bit shady. There could be sellers trying to scam people.

Others may be trying to damage it and get free and valuable cards. Mainly out of Topps since Panini does not appear to play ball with that.

But there does appear to be a market for the cards from people who know full well that they are expired and have no intention of trying to scam anyone. They either want to collect all the cards from an individual or pair the redeemed card with the redemption.

Some people may lie about redeemed cards, though I could not locate anyone like that.  

But there is still something amusing about collecting redemptions. As one person on Blowout Forums wrote jokingly, “Since there’s a good shot you’ll never actually see the card from Topps, the redemption card is as close as you’re going to get to something awesome.” Well played.

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim is the emeritus editor of Cardlines. He continues to write for several hobby outlets, including this one and Cardbase. He collects primarily vintage baseball and soccer and has a weird obsession with 1971 Topps.

In his spare time, Shaiel is sobbing into his bourbon when the Mets lose and playing Dungeons and Dragons. In a past life, Dr. Ben-Ephraim was a political science professor, journalist, and diplomat. But cards are more fun.

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