The Continuing Threat of Counterfeits: A Problem for Numismatics and the NBA

By Michael Fuljenz – Universal Coin & Bullion ……
 

Counterfeit products – including fakes of rare and circulating U.S. coins and precious metal bullion coins– have been a continuing and are a still-growing problem.

In the past few years, I have examined several customers’ coin collections and sadly detected one or more counterfeit coins in each. In one instance, the majority of one person’s collection consisted of counterfeit Proof Buffalo one-ounce gold coins, with all coins appearing in what looked like genuine NGC holders. The holders were also fraudulent. Many of these counterfeits apparently were made in China, and the buyer unsuspectingly paid thousands of dollars to purchase these fakes.

I’ve heard from collectors and investors duped in recent years with counterfeit American Eagle gold bullion coins, as well as counterfeit Morgan and Peace dollars, some of which are made of nickel, copper, and zinc. When gently tapped with a pen they ring with too high a pitch compared to a real silver dollar.

The federal government is waking up to the problems but may need another nudge from the major mainstream news media.

Earlier this year, on March 2, 2020, HR6058 (dubbed the “Shop Safe Act of 2020”) was introduced with bipartisan support in the U.S. House of Representatives.

It would amend the “Trademark Act of 1946” to give certain e-commerce platforms contributory liability when counterfeits are sold that pose a health risk to consumers. The key phrase is “health risk”, which seems short-sighted because it apparently shuts coins out of the equation, even though some fake coins coming from China contain traces of cyanide, which could pose a significant health risk.

It is well known that the Chinese internet sales platform Wish is rife with counterfeits, including numismatic items and sports apparel.

Yet, the Los Angeles Lakers accepted $36 million (only slightly less than LeBron James’ annual salary) to adorn the Lakers uniforms for a three-year period with a large Wish logo. This comes from a league that seemingly discourages players or executives from criticizing Chinese business and labor practices or taking a stand against China’s authoritarian acts to usurp a democratic Hong Kong with its authoritarian, repressive, and violent tactics.

It’s a concern shared by Lorrie Turner, Legal Counsel and Senior Vice President of Brand Protection for headwear brand New Era Cap Co.

She cautioned:

“All of that money is used illegitimately to support other criminal activity. While you may think it’s just an individual trying to earn money, ultimately all of that money goes toward nefarious things.”

The supposedly woke Lakers, NBA fans, and management should take note.

To see what would be delivered, over the past year my associate Jerry Jordan ordered numerous coins and bars from the Wish platform. Everything he received from Chinese vendors was a fake, and disturbingly the United States Postal Service delivered each order.

Here are some of the items he received:

  • A “Credit Suisse 1-ounce Gold Bar” priced at $2 plus $3 shipping. It would have been worth $1,500 when he ordered it, but it is essentially worthless because it’s fake.
  • An 1899 “Queen Morgan Silver Dolar” (sic) – that would have graded XF (Extra Fine) and if genuine would have been worth $140 – sent free for just a $3.89 shipping fee.
  • He also purchased for just $1.83 plus $2 shipping a gold coin that would have been worth $5 million if genuine: a 1933 St. Gaudens Double Eagle – but it sold for $1.83 plus $2.00 shipping.

You can’t fault the counterfeiters or their Chinese sellers for greed. They chose examples of some extremely valuable coins and then sold knockoffs for a ridiculously low price, but crooks order them and sell these for much more to unsuspecting buyers.

None of these fake coins had the word “COPY” stamped on them, as is required by the updated 2014 United States Hobby Protection Law for counterfeits. I helped pass that law with the support and assistance from former Louisiana Congressman Jimmy Hayes.

So, what can we do in 2021 to effectively combat the counterfeits? The numismatic community must support an extension of anti-counterfeiting laws to include rare and circulating coins, and I hope to, once again, be a voice, along with other industry leaders, in drafting revised legislation. When new legislation is introduced in Washington, contact your House and Senate representatives to support it.

Maybe LeBron James, the NBA, and major news media could also take note of these important issues we face when dealing with China and support the home team.

* * *

Michael Fuljenz, President of Universal Coin & Bullion Ltd. in Beaumont, Texas, served as an authenticator for the American Numismatic Association Certification Service and taught counterfeit detection classes. He is a member of the Anti-Counterfeiting Educational Foundation (ACEF), a Professional Numismatists Guild Accredited Precious Metals Dealer (APMD) and serves on the Boards of Directors of the Industry Council for Tangible Assets (ICTA) and Crime Stoppers of Southeast Texas.
 

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