How To Spot Counterfeit Coins

Rare coins are a great investment, and they come with plenty of rich history attached. But how do you make sure that you’re spending money on real coins and not fakes?


Authenticity is one of the biggest concerns for new coin collectors, but with practice, you can learn how to spot them. Counterfeit coins have existed throughout history, and they tend to have some very recognizable markers.


In this article, we’ll discuss some of the most common characteristics of counterfeit coins and how to spot them. 


What Are Counterfeit Coins?


Counterfeit coins are coins that are created to look like a specific currency without the knowledge of the appropriate governing body. Throughout history, people have developed counterfeit coins and bills in an attempt to increase their buying power, with varying degrees of success. 


There are a few different methods that scammers use to create counterfeit coins. The first is to create a coin die and strike pieces of metal the same way the government does. However, this method is very expensive and very time consuming. It is very rare to find counterfeited coins that have been made this way, but they do exist. 


Another method that criminals may use to create counterfeit coins is by making a mold of the coin and using that to cast the metal. This method is much easier and less expensive than actually striking a coin. However, it is very difficult to replicate the small details on these coins. These coins are typically very obvious fakes, and with a bit of practice you should be able to spot them with the naked eye. 


Some people will also try to alter real coins to look like specific rare editions and deceive coin collectors. This is by far the easiest way for scammers to make money selling inauthentic coins, since they don’t have to create their own dies or molds. Coins with specific rare characteristics can be very valuable, which is why people may try to deceive unwitting collectors. 


There are a number of ways that people may try to alter a coin to make it appear more valuable than it is. They may try to add or remove the date or mint marks, as these are key characteristics that can dramatically alter the value of a coin. They may even try to replicate rare details like the double die. Some counterfeiters will even split two coins and then reattach them together to give the illusion of a more expensive coin. When assessing US coins, the year and mint combinations have a huge effect on how much the coin costs overall. Since the mint mark and the year are on opposite sides of certain coins, counterfeiters could split and reattach them to potentially make thousands of dollars. 


Even when you know you’re looking at a real coin, you’ll still need to check the details to make sure it hasn’t been altered in this way. Alterations can be tricky to spot, even among experienced coin collectors. We’ll talk about some ways you can learn to spot counterfeit coins and ensure they don’t accidentally make their way into your collection. 


Quick Tests To Spot A Counterfeit Coin


There are a few quick tests that you can do on any coin to catch counterfeits quickly. While these things aren’t completely foolproof, they can give you an idea of whether you should go through with further assessment, or whether you can leave the counterfeit behind. 


- Use a powerful magnet to check the metal composition. Most US coins do not contain steel, which means they should not stick to any magnet. If your coin does stick to the magnet, this means it is made from a different types of metal than the original composition and is likely a counterfeit. There is one exception to this among United States coins, and this is the 1943 Lincoln cent. This coin was made with steel, so it should stick to a magnet, and if it does not, it is likely a counterfeit. Household magnets typically aren’t powerful enough for this kind of test, so it may be worthwhile to invest in a magnet specifically for your coin collecting. 


- Double check the coin’s weight and size. You can look up the exact weight, diameter, and thickness for many rare coins online. There are also several books that provide details for these coins. You’ll need an extremely accurate scale in order to check the weight of a coin. Counterfeit coins may only be off by a few grams or so, but with the right scale, you’ll be able to tell right away. A small, detailed caliper is the easiest and most accurate way to check the thickness and diameter of the coin. You may need to use a magnifying glass to see the coin as you’re measuring. Again, counterfeit coins may only be off by a few millimeters, which is why it’s so important to check. 


- Look at the details. Familiarize yourself with the images, lettering, and other details that should be on the coin you are interested in purchasing. Then, use magnification to inspect these details and make sure they match up. If you do have access to a verified authentic version of the same coin, you can use the two to compare. Otherwise, you may need to work from high definition photographs. There are also some key details that may indicate that a coin is fake. For example, many fake coins have seams around the edges, which indicates that two different faces have been joined together. Small holes and other inconsistent markings may also be an indication that the coin is fake. 


- If you have several coins of the same series, you can test a coin’s authenticity by putting it in a stack with them. If the stack falls over even when it’s perfectly lined up, it is likely that the coin is counterfeit. This is because it is very difficult for scammers to replicate the exact relief of a US coin. If the relief is too high or too low, the coins won’t stack right. 


- One of the easiest ways to test a silver coin is to put an ice cube on it. If the coin is made with real silver, the ice cube will start melting right away without you having to turn up the heat. This is because silver conducts heat. If the ice cube doesn’t start to melt, there is a chance the coin could be counterfeit. However, you may not want to try this strategy if your coin is particularly valuable, as there is a chance that the moisture could damage the coin. 


Tips For Finding Authentic Coins


Luckily, there are steps you can take to ensure that the coins that make it into your collection are authentic. One of the best ways to do this is to buy and sell your coins through a reputable coin dealer. Dealers have extensive knowledge of rare coins, and they can use their experience to spot counterfeit coins before you do. 


When selecting a coin dealer, make sure to ask about their experience and check in with their previous customers to make sure they are qualified. It’s also important to look at their industry certifications and connections. The more well-connected your dealer is, the easier it will be for them to find the right coins for your collection. You may need to talk to a few potential dealers before you find the right fit for you. Getting a coin through a certified dealer or coin show is always going to be safer than buying a coin from a secondhand store or unverified online source. 


It’s also very important to look for coins that have been graded by a third party service. These services will not only certify a coin’s authenticity, but they will also be able to give the coin a grade. This grade can help you more accurately determine the value of the coin. When shopping for coins, look for coins that have already been certified by these third party services.


If you find a promising coin that hasn’t yet been inspected, it may be worth investing the money to have it looked at before you make a purchase. Professional Coin Grading Services and Numismatic Guaranty Corporation are the two largest coin grading services out there, but there are a few others. 


As a coin collector, you’ll always need to be on the lookout for counterfeits. The more you learn about rare coins, the easier it will be to check a coin’s authenticity. With a little bit of practice, you’ll soon be able to shop for new coins with confidence. 


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