Coins on trial

Posted on Wed, 29 March 2017 by Alyson Thomas
Posted in: Coin News
Coins on trial Buyer Beware

THERE is an interesting piece by Glen Stephens in this month’s Philatelic Exporter (I know, stamps, I’m sorry, . . . ) regarding a certain well known on-line auction house and scammers/forgers. We won’t go as far as naming the auction house as presumably Mr Stephens has proof of his claim that “[auction house] cheerfully allows these scammers to change their [auction house] names at will” and that “[auction house] encourages all that of course, as it makes money from every sale, fake or real” whereas we only have his word for it. However, he does make some salient points. The fact is there ARE forgers and fakers out there, in every hobby, and the ease of on-line trading has helped them proliferate in a way we couldn’t have dreamt of just a few years ago. When I first started in this hobby you added to your collection through friends, coin dealers, actual auctions or antique shops, boot sales and the like, and it was in these latter places that the real bargains were to be found. Picking up a 1933 penny in a “junk tin” at my local antiques shop where the owner didn’t have a clue about coins was always a very real possibility for me as a young collector (OK, it wasn’t actually a possibility but I always liked to think it was) and half the thrill of collecting was getting that elusive bargain, picking something up at a fraction of its true value—either to keep in pride of place in my collection or to sell on at a vast profit so that I could buy items more suited to my particular interests. The internet and the proliferation of mobile phones has changed all that, now all an antiques dealer has to do is download the free COIN YEARBOOK app for a quick view of what he’s got (or pay for the upgrade if he wants to know the value in more than one grade) and so the bargains aren’t quite as readily available in the places they used to be. However, as the internet, apps etc. have taken away the mystery so they have allowed more items onto the market, people who have old coins and notes at home, left to them by granddad years ago, are now putting them up for sale when in the past they would have just let them sit in a drawer or tin— happy days, suddenly there are potential bargains to be had after all! Well, er, yes, to an extent , but just as Mr & Mrs Jones are clearing out their loft and finding a stack of white fivers or Gothic Crowns so too are the scammers moving in and now, sadly there are almost as many fakes on-line as there are real coins.

The problem is that making replica coins isn’t illegal—certainly making current coin of the realm IS illegal of course, but producing a copy of an old coin to allow a collector to fill a gap in his collection is perfectly OK—as long as that coin is sold as a fantasy piece and not as the real thing. Thus the manufacturers can get away with the production of these items even though many of them know full well that the people they sell them on to are just going to try and pass them off as genuine. Amazingly even fake slabbed coins, complete with a fake slab, barcode, hologram etc. are being produced these days. Now this of course IS illegal as the slabs should have the grading company’s logo/barcode etc. on it and to reproduce those without permission is an offence (NGC are tackling this with their own app that scans the barcode on the slab and compares it to their database—see page 16 for details). Sadly those who buy such fakes, thinking they have a real bargain, only find out about them months or years later when they go to sell on the item themselves—by then it’s too late, the on-line account is deactivated or changed, the scammer has long moved on and the on-line auctioneer won’t help.

So what does one do? Avoid on-line auctions completely? That, I think, is too drastic but there are a few simple rules — if you’re buying from a private auction company, i.e. one that takes in consignments and lists them just like a “normal” auction house except that they are based on-line then you should be fine—they will have guarantees in place that what you are buying is genuine and they will usually offer full refunds if that isn’t the case; however, if you’re buying on a “free for all” auction where anyone can list then exercise real caution. If something looks too good to be true then it probably is—after all it’s a public auction so why is the item so cheap if it’s genuine? Have others spotted what you haven’t? As Mr Stephens says you wouldn’t expect a “gold Rolex” you bought in a pub for £100 to be the real thing so why would you expect anything different just because you buy it on-line? After all just because the auction site has a big, recognisable name that doesn’t mean the seller is trustworthy. There are reputable dealers who use such auctions of course but usually they are easily identifiable as they will use their trading name as their user name—they are proud of it, they have built up its reputation over time so they use it—why wouldn’t they? These are the dealers who are members of the British Numismatic Trade Association (BNTA) and/or advertisers in COIN NEWS, they have been trading reputably for years and just happen to be selling pieces on-line. True you might not find any huge bargains in their auctions or “Buy-it-now” sales, they are too knowledgeable to make many mistakes, but then nor will you be scammed out of your hard earned cash—and if I had to choose between possibly (probably) getting a fake at a knock down price or getting a real coin for current market value I know which one I’d go for!

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