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Buyers Beware


As the late science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein wrote, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch,” also quoted as “TANSTAAFL.” Still, there continue to be too many people who think they have an opportunity to make a quick profit off of someone else’s ignorance that end up being the victim to a scam. Here are a couple stories in which the store where I work was involved.

Last week, a customer brought in some gold coins to our store to verify authenticity and check what we would pay him for them. Yes, they were genuine and he was given the price we would pay him for the coins. He left our store, saying he would be right back.

After several minutes he returned, saying he wanted to sell the coins, and putting them on the counter. Unfortunately, what he brought back were not the coins he had brought in the first time. Instead, they were obvious (to us) counterfeits of the coins, which we declined to purchase.

A few days later, we were contacted by the local police department to see if any of our exterior video cameras had recorded the interaction this man had with someone else in the parking lot of our shopping center. Unfortunately, we did not.

It turned out that this victim had responded to an offer to sell these coins on Craigslist at a price well below what our company would pay for them. The victim responded to this ad.

The seller arranged to meet the victim in the parking lot of our shopping center so that the victim could come into our store (appearing on our camera videos) with genuine coins for which we could quote our selling price. We were told that, after leaving our store the first time, the victim gave the coins back to the seller, then he went to his own vehicle to get the cash to pay the seller. After he paid the seller, he was given the counterfeit coins instead of the ones he had just taken into our store. By the time he learned about the switch of the items and went back to the parking lot, the seller was long gone.

Obviously, if the original seller had wanted to sell the genuine coins for the maximum price, he would have sold them personally to our company. But, if he had done that, he would have been recorded on video cameras and been required to produce identification to conduct the transaction. Whatever excuse he gave the victim to induce him to fall victim to the scam should have set off warning bells that perhaps the gold coins were stolen goods being sold by a fence. Instead, the victim was apparently so appreciative that the seller had allowed him to take the genuine coins into our store unaccompanied by the seller that his suspicions were later allayed.

You are probably well aware that online merchant facilitators often feature counterfeit products. Well, there is more than one way a crook could to try to scam a victim with a counterfeit. A few years ago, someone purchased a gold coin from our company’s store on eBay. He paid for the coin and we shipped it to him. Upon his receipt, he claimed he didn’t want it and was returning it for a refund, which was his option under eBay’s terms.

When this packaged arrived at our store, it was opened in view of one of our video cameras. The piece returned was a poor quality counterfeit that did not look anything like the coin we had sent him. Consequently, we contacted this person to explain that he had not returned the same piece we sent to him and we would not issue a refund to him until and unless he did so. This would-be customer filed a complaint with eBay, but never asserted that the coin he had received was not the one pictured for sale in our listing.

Unfortunately for this would-be scammer, one of our video cameras records each package being wrapped, including the contents and the mailing label on the finished package. These videos are kept at least 40 days before the media is reused for new video. We also record the precise weight of each outgoing package.

So, we could supply two videos to eBay investigators: the first showing that we indeed packaged and shipped to that customer the coin pictured in the listing, and the second showing that what he shipped to us was not the exact same coin we had shipped to him. We were not forced to make a refund to this customer. We were not told, but we suspect, that eBay may have given the customer a refund, then added him to a list of customers to watch any future transactions by him for similar scam attempts.

If someone you don’t know, on the street or online, wants to offer to sell you something at a price that sounds too good to be true, there is a high risk that the goods are either stolen or counterfeit. Buyers beware.

Patrick A. Heller was honored as a 2019 FUN Numismatic Ambassador. He is also the recipient of the American Numismatic Association 2018 Glenn Smedley Memorial Service Award, 2017 Exemplary Service Award, 2012 Harry Forman National Dealer of the Year Award and 2008 Presidential Award. Over the years, he has also been honored by the Numismatic Literary Guild (including twice in 2020), Professional Numismatists Guild, Industry Council for Tangible Assets and the Michigan State Numismatic Society. He is the communications officer of Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Mich., and writes Liberty’s Outlook, a monthly newsletter on rare coins and precious metals subjects. Past newsletter issues can be viewed at Some of his radio commentaries titled “Things You ‘Know’ That Just Aren’t So, And Important News You Need To Know” can be heard at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday and Friday mornings on 1320-AM WILS in Lansing (which streams live and becomes part of the audio archives posted at