With rising precious metals prices comes the age-old scam of counterfeits.
Fake gold coins and bars, many originating from China, have been discovered at dealers all over the world, including some high profile banks. Some analysts have even suspected that central banks, which hold thousands of tons of gold, may have fallen prey to the scam.
With silver having recently achieved all times highs and currently trading at around $25 per ounce, counterfeiters see a potential boon for their bottom lines. Counterfeiting silver isn’t new, and numerous fake 100 ounce silver bars and U.S. Morgan dollars have been discovered to date. But now the scammers have turned their sights on the official one ounce bullion coin of the United States – the American Silver Eagle. In April, the US Mint sold in excess of four million silver eagles, highlighting the surging popularity of the coin.
With many more millions of ounces being traded on the open market at traditional coin shops, online retailers and popular auction web sites, unscrupulous counterfeiters can easily slip fake coins into the mix. They do so through online auction sites, where unsuspecting buyers think they’re getting the real thing. Those collectors may then end up visiting a broker in their local area who unknowingly purchases the bunk coins and resells them to other buyers. The process happens everyday and is responsible for perhaps tens of thousands of fake silver coins and bars now in circulation.
In Hamilton, Ontario, the problem is so widespread that they have dedicated a special task force to investigate the five hundred fake American Eagles discovered in the hands of dealers and private owners.
Buyer beware, because that 99.9% silver coin you think you may have in your possession may be nothing more than practically worthless silver plated brass:
Police are warning that fake U.S silver eagle dollar coins have been circulating in the city and have been sold to various establishments over the past few months.
“You wouldn’t be able to tell the difference (with) the naked eye. The coins are actually very high quality fakes,” Const. Mike La Combe said in a Hamilton Police YouTube video. “They are silver and nickel-plated, which gives them the look of an actual silver dollar. However, when you cut them open, you can clearly see on the inside, they are brass filled.”
The video shows some of the roughly 500 fakes that have been confiscated so far.
“They are worth practically nothing, just a couple cents each,” La Combe explained.
LaCombe is a pawn unit investigator and says the coins are being bought online, then sold at “golden” times for the seller when shops are busy or with little staff. During the rush, employees may not have the time to do all the proper authenticity checks, giving criminals the chance to sell fast without getting caught.
“Only buy them from reputable dealers, a place that is established, an expert who works there who knows the difference between real and fake. Don’t buy them off the internet. and don’t buy them from people from the public who aren’t considered experts because more than likely you’re going to get a fake,” added Le Combe.
Via: CBC Hamilton
With prices as high as they are, it is in the interest of every potential precious metals investor to take it upon themselves to have a working knowledge of the coins and bars in which they are investing. Here are some tips and strategies for ensuring you are getting the real thing:
- Ring Test (video) – A silver coin or bar will have a distinct ring, as opposed to fakes which will have a thud when struck or dropped.
- Weight (video) – Understand that a “Troy Ounce“, which is how we generally weigh precious metals, is different from the popular “Avoirdupois Ounce” used as a more traditional unit of measure in the United States. Just because a coin or bar says it weighs a certain amount doesn’t make it so. If you have a gram-based scale, bring it with you to the coin shop or Craigslist exchange. If you don’t have one, spend $30 and pick one up before you spend thousands on precious metals.
- Nitric Acid Test (video) – You may not be able to test every coin or bar with nitric acid, as it requires a little bit of filing down to get under the “plate” but if you are buying in bulk, the seller may allow you to test a random piece of your choosing after you’ve performed a magnet, weight and ring test.
- Coin Caliper – If a counterfeiter uses a metal other than silver, chances are that the coin dimensions will have to change – or the coin will weigh more or less than it is supposed to with the specific dimensions. Every minted coin has a specific diameter and thickness. A caliper, usually available for $15 – $50, will give you the ability to measure the specific inches/millimeters of a particular coin. Cross compare this information, along with the weight, to the mint’s coin specifications and if they match up, then the likelihood of a fake is extremely low – especially if it “rings true.”
- Low ball pricing – If someone is trying to sell you a silver coin for significantly less than the market value, this should raise alarms. At current demand levels, there is always a buyer out there willing to pay full price, so why would a seller offer the coin for so much less? Probably because it is a fake!
Most importantly, you’ll want to avoid auction sites for silver and gold unless you trust the seller implicitly. The only easily recognizable coins that have yet to be faked because of their small denominations and potential for long-term jail sentences are dollar denominated official US currency like pre-1965 silver quarters and Kennedy/Franklin half dollars. The amount of silver in these coins is fairly small, making them unprofitable for counterfeiters when compared to one troy ounce silver eagles or larger bullion bars. So, if you’re using an auction site to buy coins consider sticking to quarters and half dollars.
The other key consideration is doing business with reputable firms. While we can never be 100% sure, buying from a dealer who’s been in business for many years and has built a reputation for honesty will help reduce the chance of being scammed. Dealers who source their supplies directly from official mints and offer uncirculated coins or bars are as close to safe as you can get because there is no middle man.
If you’re planning on investing in precious metals do your research, understand what you’re buying, know the specific dimension & weight of the product you’re purchasing, and diversify your holdings to include bullion coins, bars, and even official legal tender like pre-1965 U.S. quarters.