How to Spot a Fake: Gold, Silver, and Dealers

With prices of gold and silver on the rise, it’s important to remember basic strategies in spotting fakes to prevent getting swindled.  Even good dealers can mistakes, so it’s up to you, the receiving party, to verify the coin or bar’s authenticity.

Here is how to spot fake gold and silver.

Real Gold

The easiest (though not always the most accurate) way to tell real gold from fakes is by its color.  Gold has a dull golden sheen while those alloyed with copper and silver tend to have a reddish tint.

Gold is also surprisingly heavy.  It is in fact much heavier than silver, lead, and tungsten (which are some of the metals used in making counterfeits).  After gaining some experience, you’ll find that fake gold coins will often weigh as little as half the amount of real gold.

Just because a piece of gold looks right doesn’t mean it is pure gold.  Oftentimes, fakes will have a coating of gold to fool the buyer.  Because destructive methods in which you scratch the gold is undesirable, you may consider investing in a tool called a Fisch.  A Fisch has the standard coin shape, thickness, and diameter built into its plastic body and uses a simple balancing mechanism to see if there is enough weight within the physical parameters to be authentic gold.  It works on many types of coins, including American Eagle, Maple Leaf, and British Sovereign.

Real Silver

Silver coins and bars must say the weight and purity of the piece on the item itself.  Also, if you touch the coin with your thumb, you may notice that real silver will feel grainier than fake coins.

Although this test isn’t always practical, heat-treating silver will turn it dull white.  In high temperatures, zinc and copper—common substitutes for silver—will turn black.  This doesn’t prevent fraud when silver is only the coating of the coin or bar, though.  Although destructive methods are less desirable, you may consider using a silver acid test kit and place a drop of acid on a scratch on the coin.  Compare the change of color to the chart included in the kit.

You can also use a magnet.  Silver is not magnetic.  If the coin you are looking to purchase attaches to a magnet, it’s made using something other than silver, and the conversation is done.  The coin may still have value as it could be coated in silver and made of some other less valuable metal, but it shouldn’t be valued as if the price of it’s full weight is in silver.

Real Dealers

The first and best defense, however, has nothing to do with checking the gold or silver itself but rather with checking out your dealer or trader.  Gravitate toward dealers with strong, reliable track records.  They have more history and more to lose; they don’t get where they are by cheating people out of their money.

Two reliable (and convenient) options are investing through large institutions like American Precious Metals Exchange (APMEX) and GoldMoney.

APMEX was founded in 1999 in Edmond, Oklahoma.  It is today a growing online precious metal dealer that serves everyone from self-directed individuals to bigger institutional clients.  APMEX prides itself in having competitive and honest (though not always the lowest) prices and no hidden charges or fees, excepting a shipping charge that you can easily see in the order process.

Meanwhile, GoldMoney is like a bank account, but holds the value of your money in gold and silver.  GoldMoney got its start in 2001 in Jersey (one of the Channel Islands of the British Isles).  Both individuals and companies use GoldMoney to buy gold and silver to preserve purchasing power while paper takes a plummet.  They, too, offer competitive and transparent pricing and top notch security.

Bio: Alexis Bonari is a freelance writer and researcher for College Scholarships, where recently she’s been writing on student loan default advice and preparing a guide on private elementary student loans. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.