How to Tell if Gold Is Real

Posted on February 15, 2021

If you are interested in buying gold, you will want to make sure that you purchase authentic gold. Wondering how to tell if gold is real? The content below will help you understand what to watch out for in terms of counterfeit gold, how to choose a business that offers a reputable service as well as some tests you can run on gold to determine if your 'gold' is fake.

What Is the Actual Incidence of Counterfeit Gold?

1 oz valcambi gold bar obverse imageWhile counterfeit gold is more and more common, it's not difficult to avoid fake gold products. There are many strict procedures and protocols in place that make sure reputable bullion dealers can only sell real gold. You should always use a reputable dealer when buying gold.

The risk of buying counterfeit gold coins is low if you buy well-known sovereign coins such as American Eagles or Canadian Maple Leafs. 

Likewise, if you buy sealed gold bars from Good Delivery-certified refineries or mints, your risk for getting counterfeit gold is low.

What Is the London-based trade group?

The London bullion market, some would say the world gold bullion market, is managed by a London-based trade group whose name we can't say without paying licensing fees. It's an international organization with more than 150 members from 30 countries. Members include some of the biggest financial institutions and banks in the world. They set the standards for precious metals refining and trading worldwide.

Where Is a Consumer Most Likely To Incur Fake Gold?

Counterfeit or replica precious metals as an industry is on the rise in China. Bars and coins coated in real gold that have almost precise weight and dimensions are appearing on the market. These counterfeit items look real, but they have an inner core of tungsten. Fake gold schemes are additionally appearing worldwide.

You are most likely to incur counterfeit gold if you buy from a dealer that is not reputable or from a place like eBay. By buying from a reputable gold dealer, you significantly decrease your chances of getting a gold product that is not real.

How Can Individual Consumers Tell If Gold Is Real or Not?

The best way you can make sure that your gold products are authentic is to buy gold coins and bars directly from Good Delivery-approved refineries, mints, and dealers. This guarantees the authenticity of your gold.

If you are buying gold, there are some red flags to watch out for that may signal a problem with your gold's authenticity. Some of these red flags include:

  • Your gold is too large.
  • Your gold is too light.
  • Your gold has a mottled or grainy appearance.
  • The imprint or lettering is not perfect.
  • There's a seam along the rim.
  • Your gold is magnetic.
  • Your gold is being sold under spot price.

You can perform some simple tests on your gold if you are concerned about its authenticity.

Measure the Gold's Size

Government-minted bullion coins have standard dimensions. You can look up diameter and thickness on an official mint site before you purchase the gold.

Counterfeit coins tend to be a bit thicker or larger than the real coin. That makes them heavier so they are otherwise less detectable as counterfeits.

Weigh the Gold

Check if a coin is heavier or lighter than its actual weight. Authentic gold bullion coins have an exact weight. Keep in mind that precious metals are weighed in troy ounces and that one troy ounce is equal to 31.1 grams.

Test With a Magnet

Gold isn't magnetic. You can test gold you plan to purchase using a magnet to see if you have a cheap base metal. While this won't rule out other nonmagnetic metals, you'll know right away that you do not have gold if your metal reacts to the magnet.

Perform a Scratch/Ceramic Test

Drag gold across a non-glazed ceramic plate so that you scratch the surface. If you get a gold scratch, you have a genuine gold coin or bar. If, however, the scratch is gray or black, the gold is counterfeit. Use this test with caution, as it can damage gold.

Perform a Nitric Acid Test

Gold is resistant to oxidation and corrosion, so pure gold would not be affected by nitric acid. You'll find different strengths of acid to test different karats. Gold that doesn't react to the acid is as pure as its karat rating and possibly higher. This test is best left to an expert, as it can be dangerous both to you and to your metal.

Check the Price

Trustworthy bullion dealers sell gold at 1.5% to 10% (or higher) over the spot price of gold. This price takes into consideration the spot price as well as refining and minting premiums. It also includes transportation costs, dealer overhead and dealer profit. A dealer selling gold at or below spot price either has hidden fees to account for their losses ” or they are selling you counterfeit gold.

Electronic or XRF Thermo Testing Machines

This certified method to determine the exact composition of a gold piece can be used by both gold owners and professional appraisers. The test is both accurate and harmless to your gold and will allow you to authenticate a gold bar or coin. These machines are also used to test palladiumplatinum, and silver.

How Can You Vet a Business To Know That Its Gold Is Legitimate?

When it's time to buy gold, you want to go with a business you know you can trust. In addition to checking that a business sells certified products, you should look into its ratings. A trustworthy business will be committed to keeping you informed. Reputable businesses will answer your questions and provide resources and information that can help you stay informed in the future.

Gold can be a worthwhile investment. If you choose to invest in gold bullion bars or coins, you will want to know how to tell if gold is real before making your purchase.