A question I am frequently asked is “how do I know I’m buying real bullion coins and bars?” I love questions like this because it gives me a chance to educate my customers on what I do as a professional bullion dealer to ensure the authenticity of the product I sell. These are techniques you too can use on your own bullion regardless of where they purchase it from for your own piece of mind.
The unfortunate reality is that yes, fake precious metals do exist. These products, which can look very similar to recognized precious metals products are compose of a base metal such as copper or nickel with a thin plating of precious metals on the surface. They are usually produced in large quantities in China and shipped to the united states in Canada. A lot of them end up getting sold on online auction sites, sometimes described as replica’s and sometimes not.
Fake 10 ounce Bar with Tungsten Core
The Good News
The good news is that even though fakes exist, I have had very few ever come into my store to be sold and the odd time it did happen they were extremely easy to spot and avoid. The majority of the time when questioned about where they got the fake product the customer always said from an online auction website. Avoiding purchases of precious metals from online auctions websites and purchasing from reputable sources will reduce your risk of receiving a fake product to a negligible amount.
silver bars received direct from the mint or mint distributor.
Where precious metals are sourced from is incredibly important. As a professional bullion dealer we purchase 90% of our product direct from the mints that mine and produce the product. The products generally come to us brand new direct from the maker so we have complete assurance that the product will be genuine.
Testing Bullion coins & Bars for Authenticity
Unlike testing scrap gold and silver it is best to avoid this destructive method to test gold & silver bullion coins and bars which we want to keep looking nice and undamaged with acid testing which is commonly used to test jewelry and scrap metal.
1. Magnetic Test
While many fakes can easily pass this test, silver as well as gold bullion for that matter are both non-magnetic. If a bullion coin or bar sticks to a magnet you can easily throw this one out. Fakes that are produced with any iron or steel content in them will give off some magnetic attraction and identify itself as a fake. Metals that have a core of zinc, copper, lead or other non-magnetic metal will not be detected by this test.
The stronger the magnet the better, a neodymium magnet (grade N52) should be able to detect any iron or steel based metal.
2. Magnetic Slide Test
Continuing on with magnets, another test you can to spot counterfeit silver is using a magnetic slide. Simple and easy to build, this is a fun way to instantly spot fakes without any complicated testing.
How it works: even though silver is non-magnetic it has a property known as diamagnetism. This causes silver to repel when in contact with a magnetic field. So real silver moving down a magnetic slide will move slower than fake silver. A fake will move down the slide with no resistance. Check out the video below, it’s actually pretty cool:
3. Weight & Dimensions Test
This type of test only applies to bullion coins from government mints or bars and rounds which have published dimensions and weights which most do. Since the most popular coin is the Canada Maple leaf, we will take a look at that particular coin. You can view the specs of the Silver Maple below:
For this test you need a good digital electronic scale. You will want to get a scale that measures at least to 2 decimal points in grams. Here is one similar to the ones we sell at our retail store or can be found at many online retailers for about $15.
Silver Maples have a minted weight of 1 Troy oz. ~ 31.103 grams. Another easy give away is the diameter of the coin, this should be pretty exact at ~37.97mm. To check this you will want a good set of calipers, preferably digital to get an exact read out and minimize reading errors.
When weighing your coins, be sure to account for a certain tolerance or variance in the weight. There is no official guideline given, but anything from 31.1g – 31.8g should be OK. If you are getting readings of 30g or 32g+ that is reason for concern.
If you are buying silver & gold coins or bars on ebay or craigslist, there is a higher probability that you will encounter a fake. A little common sense will go a long ways!
What out for these words on some products that will definitely indicate they are fake.
Silver-Plated – Like it says, this is any base-metal with a silver plating on the outside to fool the naked eye.
100 mills – This word is deceptive, it is stating the measurement of the thickness of the silver plate. They can even state 99.9% silver since the plate is pure silver. Just another fancy word for silver or gold-plated.
Silver Clad – Just read the definition of clad: to bond a metal to (another metal), especially to provide with a protective coat. Yes, again silver-plated.
Replica or Copy – If this word is in the title or description you can be sure that it is not pure silver.
Nickel Silver – While this has a silver appearance, it has a composition of 60% copper, 20% nickel, and 20% zinc. You can read more about it here.
German Silver – Another term for nickel silver
In closing, the best way to avoid buying fake silver and gold products is to buy from a reputable coin & bullion dealer. A professional coin dealer is not going to put at stake their families future and the future of their business by selling un-authentic products.