Of all the threats to the numismatics industry one stands out as being the biggest threat: counterfeiting. While thefts and violence of dealers are tragedies, the theft is more localized and easier to deal with because, for the most part, criminals are stupid and leave evidence. Also, since the dealer community is small and there is cooperation from the pawn industry, there is a higher resolution from thefts than expected.
Counterfeiting is worse. Counterfeiting can be a systemic problem that infects the industry in the same way a virus infects your body. To extend the analogy, thefts would be like breaking a finger. It will hurt and cause problems, but the rest of the body will survive. A virus hurts the entire body.
A counterfeit coin is added to the market and is sold to an unsuspecting buyer. The buyer figures out that the coin is counterfeit and is usually embarrassed to admit their mistake. Rather than report the crime or just chalk it up to bad luck, they try to resell the coin, even at a loss, to make up some of the money. The buyer, who is now the reseller, can plead ignorance by claiming buyer’s remorse and say that they decided they did not want the coin.
Overseas counterfeiters, mostly from China, also setup broker networks where they sell their creations to United States-based sellers for them to sell to unsuspecting buyers. While many use online sources to sell these counterfeits, many will try to sell them to low-end coin shops, bullion traders like the ones who setup in hotel rooms, and pawn shops. Unfortunately, they are successful in selling of these items to what should be trusted dealers keeping them in hobby circulation like a virus coursing through your veins.
The problem is not limited to raw coins. Counterfeiters have figured out ways to counterfeiting both the NGC and PCGS holders along with their holographs and seals in order to fool potential customers. Since both companies make it easy to look up serial numbers via their websites, counterfeiters will use the serial number of a real coin and counterfeit that coin for the holder. Both NGC and PCGS have been doing as much as technology allows when upgrading their holders and holographic seals to thwart counterfeiters.
A reminder of the issue landed in Inboxes today from Doug Davis of the Numismatic Crime Information Center. Rather than describe the warning, here it is in its entirety:
Dealers in Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas should be on the look out for a suspect selling counterfeit coins and bullion within the last ten days. The suspect has been identified as Gabe Owen and sometimes uses the alias Garet or Gabriel Owen. Owen is a white male and uses a Kansas driver’s license or a passport as identification. The vehicle driven by Owen is a white Yukon or Tahoe.
Owen is attempting to sell gold bars, one ounce gold eagles, a 1795 PCGS VF dollar and silver eagles. The same suspect was identified in similar incidents and reported by NCIC approximately one year ago.
We are working with authorities to get a current photo. At the present time there is no outstanding warrant for this subject.
A basic tool against counterfeiting is education. You should know and understand what you are buying. While this sounds basic, you have to think about the coins you are purchasing. For example, collectors of Morgan dollars might think they know what the coin looks like and what to look for, but do you really know? Could that variation in the strike be a known variety, known as VAMs after ground breaking research into Morgan dollar die varieties by Leroy C. Van Allen and A. George Mallis? What if it is a real Morgan dollar that was once cleaned or tooled that would be at least worth its value in silver?
Even if you do not have the education give a definitive answer, how many times have you heard the target of a scam say that something did not seem right or that they questioned a lot of what the seller was saying? More times than not, these instincts are usually right and the few times they are not right, you should feel better knowing that at least you had the sense to listen to that inner voice because you might need it next time.
Always remember, if the deal is too good to be true, it probably is not a good deal!
While counterfeiting is illegal and there are protections under the Hobby Protection Act, the only person that can be prosecuted is the seller. Under the law, the only other person who could be prosecuted is the manufacturer. In most cases, the manufacturer is outside of the United States and beyond the reach of law enforcement.
One tool that can help is H.R. 2754, the Collectible Coin Protection Act. The Collectible Coin Protection Act updates the Hobby Protection Act by allowing law enforcement to target the distributors as well as the sellers. By making the changes H.R. 2754 prescribes, it allows law enforcement to cut off the supply lines from the counterfeit manufacturers.
H.R. 2754 passed the House of Representatives on July 30, 2013 and was sent to Senate for their consideration. However, the bill is sitting in the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation waiting to be scheduled. Even if your senators are not a member of this committee, if they hear from constituents that this is a concern, they will speak with the committee chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) or the ranking member Sen. John Thune (R-SD) to bring this to a vote.
Be part of the antidote to this virus and go to senate.gov, use the pull down menu in the upper-right corner of the page to select the state you live or work. Please contact both of your senators and let them know that you support the Collectible Coin Protection Act. When you contact your senators, tell them that the bill is revenue neutral. It will not add to the deficit and will not require additional appropriations.
In the meantime, please be careful and educate yourself before making that purchase. Buy the book before you buy the coin may be more important now than ever.
The advantage is that almost any book at almost any price is a bargain. You cannot buy them much cheaper. The profits come from knowing what is between the covers. The best collections are built on knowledge, not price sheets.
I could not have said it better!
Image of counterfeit coin and slab was taken by the author at the 2014 F.U.N. Show.