Fake Silver Bars and Coins - Buyer Beware!
In 2012 there has been an increase in the amount of fake silver hitting the market. A lot of this fake silver seems to be sold through e-bay and other online marketplaces.
Historically silver has been fairly safe to purchase in one ounce weights, as the price of silver has meant that counterfeiting coins and bars has not been worthwhile. However now with the silver price steadily above $30, there is much more incentive for scammers to produce fake coins and bars.
Recently I was duped myself and purchased two 1 oz silver bars through e-bay which turned out to be fake. After this experience I am much more cautious now about where and who I buy silver from. This hub explains some of the risks and precautions that you can take to avoid falling into the same trap as I did of buying fake silver.
There are currently many fake gold and silver bars and coins being sold out of China. The detail and quality of these fakes are very high making it very hard to tell the difference between a fake and an original. The following are a list of fake silver bars and coins which have been reported (to name a few).
1 oz Pan American Silver Bar
1 oz Scottsdale Silver Bar
1 oz Sunshine Mint Silver Bar
1 oz American Prospector Silver Bar
1 oz Silver Chinese Panda’s
1 oz Perth Mint Lunar Dragons
1 oz Canadian Maple Coins
Many other generic 1 oz silver bars
The best way to avoid buying fake silver is to be aware and careful about who you buy from and what you buy.
1. Be very careful about where you buy silver. Buying silver from an online marketplace is riskier than buying from a bullion dealer. In my case the seller of the fake silver bars had an impeccable 4 year e-bay history with 100% feedback.
2. If the price is too good to be true it probably is. If the seller is selling items in bulk this should be another red flag. Also be suspicious if the seller cannot deliver instantly and the delivery date is some days/weeks away from the time of order.
3. Be extra careful when buying Chinese coins such as Silver Panda’s and Dragons. These have flooded the market in recent years and fakes have been widely reported.
This video provides an excellent overview of the fake silver trend and offers some tips on what to look out for.
How to Detect Fake Silver
There are a number of different tests that an individual can carry out from their home to detect for fake silver. Some of these are much more reliable than others, however the average person may not have the equipment on hand to test silver and may be forced to rely on less conventional techniques. The following tests can be used to test for fake silver:
The Ping Test
The “ping” or “ring” test is probably the easiest method to test for fake silver. Unfortunately (at least in my experience) it is also the most unreliable. The theory is that a pure silver coin or bar will generate a long ringing sound like a bell when tapped with another coin or bar. A fake coin or bar on the other hand is more likely to make a dull thud. To carry out the test take one silver coin or bar and rest it on the end of your finger, take another coin (or bar) and lightly tap the silver on the end of your finger. In theory it should make a pleasant sustained ringing sound like a tuning fork.
From my own experience this test is not reliable. It is difficult to position the coins in order to get the ringing sound, and depending upon the size and shape of the coins/bars it might not ring at all.
Reliability High (if the fake is magnetic)
This is a very simple test. If your silver coin or bar can pick up a magnet it isn’t silver. A reasonably powerful rare earth magnet is best for this test, as a standard fridge magnet most likely won’t be strong enough if the fake is silver plated.
If the magnet can be picked up with the silver coin or bar then it is 100% a fake. This is a good test to start with, however be aware that many of the metals used in these fakes (i.e. lead, copper, tungsten) will not be attracted to magnets either. So this test will not reveal many of the silver fakes on the market, however it is definitely worth trying.
The magnet test is the method I used to detect that the silver bars I purchased were fake. The photo’s below show how the silver bar attracted and picked up a magnet. The magnet I used was a small neodymium magnet that I found in one of my kids toys. Generally you should be able to find one of these, somewhere in the house. They are used on some fridge magnets (look for small shiny ones) and often used in electrical toys or speakers. If you can’t find one in your home, they can be picked up cheaply for a couple of bucks.
The below photos show the magnetic silver that I purchased.
It is also worth pointing out that silver is diamagnetic meaning that it has repels a magnet (as the magnet moves). This is quite difficult to detect but can be tested by holding the bar or coin on a 45 degree angle and sliding a small magnet down it. What you should see is a very slight sticking effect and the magnet should slide down the silver much slower than say compared to a non magnetic piece of metal (which would fall much quicker). The following video does a great job of explaining the effect you should see by sliding a rare earth magnet down a piece of silver.
The Ice Test
Silver is one of the most thermally conductive metals. If you place a piece of silver onto a block of ice it should cut through the ice like a hot knife through butter (and without applying any pressure). The silver will also turn very cold to the touch, very quickly (within a few seconds).
The test is only really useful if you have 2 pieces to compare (one genuine and one fake), as silver plated items will also cut through ice quickly, however not as quickly as genuine silver. Be aware also that copper is another highly conductive metal and will also have a similar effect on ice. For these reasons the ice test alone is not a completely reliable method for detecting fake silver.
Test by Weight
A quick and reliable method to identify the most common fake silver is to weigh it. Most fake silver coins are made from silvery metal alloys that weigh less than genuine silver.All minted coins and bars have a specific weight (in grams) normally to 2 decimal places.
The weights of all standard coins and bars can easily be found with an internet search. A silver coin or bar should ALWAYS be the same weight to a very high degree of accuracy. If a silver bar or coin is different to the standard weight, even by as little as 1 mg then this should raise suspicions. Some of the better quality fakes are very close to the actual weights. In order for this test to be most effective it should be carried out with a measurement test, see below.
Test by Measurement
Measuring silver with a pair of callipers is another reliable method to tell a genuine silver bar or coin from a fake. To be most effective this method should be used in conjunction with weighing the silver. Fake silver often uses lighter alloys which mean the thickness of the coin will be greater than a genuine silver piece.
The dimensions of all common coins and bars can be found with a quick internet search. If the dimensions are out by even a small degree, this should raise an immediate red flag.
The acid Test
Acid test kits for gold and silver can be purchased relatively cheaply and these provide a reasonably reliable means of determining whether or not the silver is fake. The acid test should be considered a last resort as it will mark the silver. If the bar or coin has numismatic value you might want to think long and hard before carrying out this test.
To apply the acid, make a small scratch on the item (just in order to get passed any silver plating). Then apply a drop of acid to the spot. The spot will turn a different color if it is a fake, to that of genuine silver. The colors to look for will be noted on the test kit (these vary between solutions). The following video shows how to carry out the silver acid test.
In summary I hope this hub provides some useful information on how to guard against and detect fake silver. In my experience the vast majority of bullion dealers and online sellers are reputable, honest people, however as with anything in life it pays to be vigilent and on guard for scammers and rip off merchants.