Counterfeit coins are "flooding the market at an astonishing rate," and compromising the investments of collectors, according to the American Numismatic Association (ANA).
"It's a very serious problem and it's really scary," said Rod Gillis, ANA's education director. "With improved technology, the fakes are getting better. It's gotten to the point where even people who deal with coins all the time may not be able to recognize a counterfeit coin right away."
Another veteran coin dealer agrees.
"There's a reliable supply of bogus coins coming from China into the U.S., and it has been getting more authentic-looking over the years," said Brad Karoleff, a veteran coin dealer who owns Coins Plus in Cincinnati. "At first, they were laughable, but as they've become savvier, they've been making counterfeits that look much more like the real thing."
Coin dealers and pawn shops are also being targeted. Eric Hoolahan, CEO of Bellevue Rare Coins, with several stores around the Seattle area, says criminals are buying these knock-off coins and trying to sell them to stores that may not know how to spot a fake.
"It doesn't cost them much, so they don't need to get top dollar," Hoolahan said. "Even if they get a pawn shop to pay them half the market price, they're doing great."
William Gibbs, managing editor of Coin World, says some crooks are now putting their fake gold and silver coins into authentic-looking collector coin holders called slabs, complete with bogus bar codes and registration numbers. This makes it look like the coin has been authenticated by a reputable grading service.
"So even if you're ordering a coin online that shows it's in a slab from a reputable grading service, those holders could be fake," said Gibbs said.
The only way to verify the slab is to call the grading company and give them the registration number.