With the current surge in the price of gold, coin dealers are noticing an alarming jump in the number of fake gold coins in circulation.
Counterfeit coins have been around for almost as long as the first genuine minted coins. But up until now, they have been relatively easy to identify, based on their weight. Gold is one of the heaviest metals. So, while fake gold coins made with other metal alloys might have looked the part, they were considerably lighter. If they were close to the correct weight, they would be noticeably thicker or larger than the genuine article.
Fake gold coins from China
Not so with the latest batches of counterfeit coins, the majority of which originate from China. These coins are made from gold plated tungsten, a cheap metal that has almost the same density as gold. They look and feel like the real thing – even down to the packaging that makes them appear genuine.
Technology has not only helped improve the look and feel of fake gold, online marketplaces such as eBay and Alibaba make it easier to sell these products worldwide. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Anti-Counterfeiting Educational Foundation has identified over 100 websites selling counterfeit precious metals coins and ingots.
How to avoid being fooled
First and foremost, make sure you buy your gold coins from an LBMA (London Bullion Market) approved dealer, or directly from the Royal Mint. Never, ever buy through global internet sites like eBay. If you already bought gold coins and are worried about their authenticity, here are some ways to check:
Red Flag #1 – you bought cheap
Did you pay the going rate, or were you tempted to part with your money because the coins were a bargain? What is the going rate? The price of gold bullion coins is based on the current gold spot price. Trustworthy dealers sell coins at 1.5% to 10% above the gold spot price and buy for around 5% less, to cover overheads and profit. If you bought cheaper gold coins, there is a strong possibility that they are not genuine.
Red Flag #2 – your coins are lighter in weight
Although this doesn’t apply to the latest counterfeits, checking the weight of your coins will eliminate obvious fakes. Use a good digital scale to to weigh your coins. Fine gold coins like the 1 oz 24-karat Gold Britannia coin weigh exactly one troy ounce (31.1 grams). Other gold bullion coins, such as the South African Krugerrand or American Gold Eagle, are 22-karat gold. They contain trace amounts of other metals in addition to one troy ounce of gold, which makes them slightly heavier.
Red Flag #3 – something doesn’t look right
Use callipers to measure the thickness and diameter of your coins. Click here to check the dimensions of various popular gold coins. Use a magnifying glass to look for obvious giveaways like pit marks on the surface of the coin and imperfections in the milled edges. It’s easier if your have a genuine coin to compare yours with. If not, a good quality photograph on the internet can be helpful.
Red Flag #4 – they don’t ‘ping’
Interestingly, a genuine gold coin makes a long, resonant ‘pinging’ noise when struck with another coin, unlike the short, dull “clunck” of a normal coin . To test, simply lay the gold coin on your finger tip and strike the edge gently with another coin. You will hear the distinctive ringing noise. If you’re not sure what you should be hearing, listen to this YouTube video.
The are smartphone apps available nowadays that can scan precious-metal products to verify genuine gold coins. Gold Test checks the gravity and density of the gold, whereas the Gold Bullion app tests for resonance (sound).
Buy Gold Britannia coins with confidence
The 2021 Gold Britannia is one of the safest coins you can buy, owing to its state of the art security features. Gordon Summers, chief engraver at the Royal Mint, said: “By using advanced new technology, we have created a unique and highly safe coin which gives customers complete confidence.”
You don’t need any fancy equipment or tricks to verify your gold Britannia. Simply hold the coin up to the light and rotate it slightly. You will see:
- A latent image which acts like a hologram. From different angles, you will see either a padlock or a trident.
- Surface animation. Picosecond lasers – which create indents 200 times narrower than the width of a human hair – have been used to create create complex designs that are extremely difficult to copy. Look at the waves behind the figure of Britannia. They actually appear to be moving when the coin is tilted. The Royal Mint was one of the first in the world to use these advanced lasers, which were developed for the medical and aerospace industries. You should also see unique tincture lines on the Union Jack emblem in Britannia’s shield.
- Micro-text. The inscription Decus et Tutamen, which translates to, “An ornament and a safeguard”, surrounds the figure of Britannia and has been created using specialist lasers.
For more information on the security features of gold Britannia coins, please visit The Royal Mint.