Just how bad is the counterfeiting problem in the U.S. coin and bullion industry?
We just don’t know.
That is part of our current problem.
We know it is bad enough that the Industry Council for Tangible Assets created a special task force at the beginning of the year.
We know that David J. Ryder, the nominee to be U.S. Mint director, was asked about it at his Senate confirmation hearing Oct. 24.
We know it is bad enough that two members of Congress wrote a joint letter Oct. 27 to the current head of the U.S. Mint, Acting Principal Deputy Director David Motl, and to Randolf D. Alles, director of the Secret Service.
The questions posed by Rep. Alex X. Mooney and Rep. Frank Lucas in the letter are revealing.
The letter first off says it is accompanying a tungsten fake one-ounce American Eagle gold coin dated 1995.
It notes that the Secret Service is not inclined to investigate such fake American Eagles.
So it asks for information regarding:
"1. The nature and quantity of complaints – and resulting investigations – regarding counterfeit U.S. gold, silver, and platinum coins within the past two years.
"2. Whether, and to what extent, the U.S. Mint has reviewed the anti-counterfeiting measures that have been implemented by other sovereign and private mints – and whether the U.S. Mint is preparing to implement any technologies to protect the integrity of America’s coins minted of gold, silver, and platinum, and palladium.
"3. What anti-counterfeiting programs, if any, are in place to protect the integrity of U.S. coins minted specifically of gold, silver, platinum, and palladium?
"4. The expected roles of the Secret Service, the U.S. Customs and Border Enforcement, and other federal law enforcement agencies in detecting and investigating counterfeits of U.S. coins minted of precious metals and the extent of their coordination with the U.S. Mint."
These four points show that we are in the very early stages of the process.
I hope answers are forthcoming soon.
I do know that fakes of modern gold bullion coins have been appearing since the 1980s, and the Secret Service’s indifference to them dates to the same time.
Its position was the issuer of these coins is responsible for finding out who is faking their products.
The existence of tungsten-filled gold bars and various fake American Eagles goes back years. Just Google the topic.
The Royal Canadian Mint has changed the way it strikes its gold and silver Maple Leaf bullion coins, and it has created a machine that will tell you whether these recently made pieces with its Bullion DNA are genuine or fake.
The gold Maple Leaf was changed in 2014 and the silver in 2015.
Obviously, Canada is either ahead of the game or it was facing a more serious problem than we know.
The action by ICTA this year shows that there is a level of concern that is demanding industry action in the United States.
It would certainly be helpful if the Secret Service and the U.S. Mint become aggressively active in this area.
Let’s hope the problem of counterfeiting will be defined, quantified and counteracted.
This letter by the two Congressmen is an early step in that direction.
Buzz blogger Dave Harper won the Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog for the third time in 2017 . He is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."
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