How to Spot Fake Silver Coins

Posted - January 14, 2022
How to Spot Fake Silver Coins

New bullion coin collectors have a lot to learn. If you’re just starting out in the bullion industry, the process of finding and purchasing collectable coins can be disorienting. The vocabulary used by leading bullion distributors can be tough to parse. That’s why we created the Bullion Academy; our goal is to make buying silver bullion and silver coins as simple and straightforward as possible. 

The topic of today’s guide is how to spot fake silver coins. If you purchase bullion from reputable distributors and mints, counterfeit coins shouldn’t be a major concern. In fact, coins purchased from mints like the United States Mint or the Royal Canadian Mint might even come with official documentation to verify their legitimacy. But the truth is that many bullion collectors buy their coins from a variety of different sources, some far less respected than others. If you’re buying silver coins from pawn shops or off sites like Craigslist, the threat of counterfeit or fake silver coins is ever-present. 

While we don’t have precise statistics on the amount of money lost to fake silver coins, evidence suggests that thousands of these counterfeits are sold per year. The cost can be debilitating; counterfeits of rare silver coins can cost thousands of dollars, and you should never expect to get a refund from a counterfeiter! 

The best strategy for avoiding fake silver coins is preventative. By only doing business with people and companies you trust, you can avoid dumping thousands of dollars into a clever counterfeit piece. However, we understand why so many collectors look for small distributors, especially when it comes to hard-to-find and limited edition coins. The happy truth is that the vast majority of small silver coin distributors are on the up-and-up. Therefore, many of our readers may be looking for a few tips on how to spot fake silver coins. 

We’ve got you covered! In this guide, you’ll find information on all of the best ways to spot and identify fake silver coins. We’ll walk you through the ping test, the ice test, magnetic tests, and a few different visual cues that you’re dealing with a counterfeit silver coin. If these terms seem confusing now, there’s no reason to worry. Today’s guide about how to spot fake silver coins will arm bullion collectors with everything they need to avoid getting scammed. 

How Common are Fake Silver Coins? 

Fake bullion coins are common enough to be a serious threat to gold and silver coin collectors. As of right now, we don’t have a clear idea of just how many fake silver coins are sold and purchased each year. However, simple logic can give us a look into the most commonly faked silver coins on the market. Silver coin counterfeiters are often working with limited technology; very few illegal coin counterfeiting operations are using full mint tech to rip off customers! 

Because of this limited technology, scammers in the silver coin industry tend to target older coins. The reason is simple; older coins are easier to fake. Coins from the early 1900s were minted with very little security technology. In fact, some coins from this era included no security measures at all. Coins like the 1916 Mercury Dime, the 1911 Quarter Eagle, and the 1912 Quarter Eagle are especially common marks, as their mint technology is minimal and they can be replicated with relative ease. 

Modern coins are frequently made with extremely sophisticated security technology. Coins from the British Royal Mint, for instance, often employ a repeating wave pattern. Some new mints are even using NFC tags, which allow collectors to verify a coin’s legitimacy using their smartphones! With this information in mind, it isn’t hard to see why such a large majority of counterfeit and fake silver coins are older models from government mints. 

This is one reason we urge consumers to exercise caution when purchasing old coins. Extremely old coins that appear to be in uncirculated condition should make you especially suspicious; silver coins that are a century or more old should have at least some normal signs of circulation. The obvious exception to this rule is old coins that have been maintained by national mints. Hero Bullion actually sells a few U.S. Mint coins from the 1920s in Brilliant Uncirculated (BU) condition! 

How to Avoid Fake Silver Coins

As we mentioned in the introduction to this guide, your best bet for avoiding fake silver coins is to take a preventative approach. By never putting yourself in a position where you’re likely to be scammed, you can increase your chances of avoiding fake silver coins entirely. The single most important step you can take to minimize your odds of getting scammed is to only purchase bullion through reputable companies. Companies that are registered bullion distributors are often subject to strict federal regulation and scrutiny, meaning that counterfeiting would be quickly exposed and prosecuted by the government. 

However, big bullion distributors often charge higher premiums over spot than smaller companies. It’s also important to note that many rare collectable silver coins are easier to purchase from small or individual distributors and, to be sure, these vendors can certainly be reputable. The key is to look for companies that have been reviewed positively by other silver coin collectors. Many sites on the internet review small mints and bullion distributors. These resources can be your best friend when you’re buying from a company for the first time. 

If you’re really concerned about fake silver coins, consider avoiding models that are commonly counterfeited. We introduced you to a few of the most commonly faked silver coins in the section above. In particular, many bullion resources claim that the 1916-D Mercury Dime is one of the most common counterfeited coins in the industry. If you’re working with a new distributor and want to build trust, consider starting with a new coin that’s harder to fake. It should be common sense that more inexpensive coins are also great for people who are afraid of being scammed. 

It’s also always good advice to never buy bullion from a company that does not accept returns. Reputable companies should always be willing to accept returns, especially on something like silver bullion and coins. Even if we’re not concerned about counterfeits, there’s still a long list of reasons why distributors should be willing to accept a return. Imagine that your expensive silver coin arrives with scuffs or damage from the shipping process. What can you do if the company you purchased from won’t give you a refund? 

Buying from a company with a solid reputation and a clear returns policy allows consumers to evaluate the legitimacy of their coins after shipment has already occurred. On the off chance that your collectable silver coin is actually a fake silver coin, a fair return policy can save you thousands of dollars!

Tests for Spotting Fake Silver Coins

If you’ve already purchased a silver bullion coin, it’s a bit too late to worry about choosing the right company to buy from. Once a silver coin is already at your door, you’ll need a few strategies to identify whether or not it’s a fake. Fake silver coins should be evidently counterfeited, and the good news is that it doesn’t take a genius to identify a fake silver coin. In this section, we’ll cover the visual test, the ping test, the ice test, and magnetic tests. 

The good news is that these tests generally don’t require any kind of new technology; you can do them all from home. The visual test should be your first choice; many fake silver coins can be spotted with a quick look, provided that you know what to look for. After ruling out a fake using the visual test, you’re ready to move onto some of our other favorite coin legitimacy tests. 

The Visual Test

Years ago, coin experts needed specialized tools and magnifying glasses to notice the fine details that distinguish a fake silver coin from a legitimate one. With the technology of the average smartphone, however, almost anyone can see well enough to identify the key features of an authentic silver coin

When you conduct the visual test, you’re looking for the most obvious and egregious elements of a fake silver coin. Check the markings of the coin with available online information to make sure that the markings on your coin align with what that edition should have. The relief of the coin is another important consideration. One of the most obvious signs of a fake silver coin is a lack of reeding, the ridges on the edge of a coin. While authentic coins can come without reeding, this is incredibly rare. 

The Ping Test

This test is a classic way for silver coin collectors to verify the legitimacy of their pieces. This test is considered relatively difficult for fake coins to pass. Genuine silver coins should make a clear ping sound when they hit a surface. Although this test is by no means definitive, the absence of this sound is a good indicator that you have a fake silver coin on your hands.

An important note: this test can be harmful to expensive coins. If you don’t want to risk scuffs or abrasions on your silver piece, avoid using this strategy. As we explained in the above sections, circulated older American coins are especially susceptible to counterfeiting. This means that some of these old bullion products could be ideal for the ping test, on account of their low value and high circulation. 

Magnetic Tests

If you’re dealing with a lazy counterfeiter, the magnetic test is a sure bet to identify a fake silver coin. No silver coin should stick to a magnet. In fact, high purity silver coins are actually repelled by magnets instead of attracted by them. Some silver coins with only 90% pure silver might have some magnetism, but they will slide down an angled magnet much slower than other coins, such as those made out of zinc. 

The benefit to this test is that it doesn’t pose any risk to the silver coin being tested. We recommend investing in a magnet tool in order to conduct this test, but any home magnet should generally work for our purposes. One downside of the test is that it might present false-positives. Copper and lead, for example, also have similar non-magnetic properties to silver. If your fake silver coin is only plated with silver but contains copper or lead, it might seem to be legitimate if you use the magnetic test alone. 

The Ice Test

To do this test correctly, you need to have access to a coin that you know is authentic. Take one coin that you want to verify for legitimacy and place a single ice cube on top of it. Put another ice cube on the coin that you know is legitimate. With this test, you’ll be comparing the speed at which the ice cubes melt between the two coins. Because silver is a good conductor of heat, it should cause the ice cube to melt relatively quickly. 

Other metals are much slower at melting ice. If your coin is a fake silver coin, then the ice sitting on top of it should melt significantly slower than the ice on top of the real silver coin. This test is a pretty sure thing, but the only downside is that it requires you to have a genuine silver coin to conduct the comparison. We recommend keeping a legitimate coin around for this exact reason. 

Final Thoughts

Here at Hero Bullion, we make every effort to ensure that your silver coins are 100% real and authentic. Whenever possible, we are able to provide documents to verify the legitimacy of the silver pieces you purchase from us. But we want our customers to have the knowledge necessary to distinguish real from fake silver coins, regardless of who they choose to purchase from. 

By conducting a few simple tests, it should be easy for bullion collectors to identify fake silver coins from home.

About The Author

Follow @herobullion

Hero Bullion provides an environment that is informative and safe for those looking to own physical gold and silver bullion as an investment. We love helping folks at all stages throughout their bullion journey making progress towards acheiving their financial goals. Whether you are a seasoned bullion investor or brand new to the game of gold and silver bullion ownership, we're here to help and serve you in any way we can.