Posted on May 20, 2021
"I would gladly chastise those who represent things as different from what they are. Those who steal property or make counterfeit money are punished.”
-Queen Elizabeth I
When there is money involved, you can always bet there will be people attempting to take advantage of others. Unfortunately, this is the case in the precious metals coin market, where counterfeit coins have been a problem since coins began circulating thousands of years ago. Ancient Greece experienced problems with counterfeit coins as early as 375 BCE. Since then, fake-money scammers have been quick to adapt their tricks of the trade in an effort to turn their forgeries into real money.
Luckily, technology has provided an invaluable resource in the fight against counterfeit coins. Let’s examine some of the technological innovations that have helped the industry combat forgeries.
Even as coinage has evolved over the years, the problem of counterfeiting hasn’t stopped. Coin counterfeiters are well versed in producing lookalike copies of both circulating and collectible coins that make it difficult for the average person to notice. As precious metals coins appreciate in value, incentives for forgers increase as well.
Notable counterfeiting figures in recent years include:
Due to the continued prevalence of coin counterfeiters, mints and refineries worldwide are now working with the latest technology to make it more difficult to create genuine forgeries of newly circulated coins.
All anti-counterfeiting technologies rely on a single strategy: make it as difficult as possible for even the most talented forger to create a convincing copy. Beyond that, there are two widely-used tactics employed by mints:
This first tactic has been used virtually since the invention of coins. However, today’s technologies have taken us light-years beyond those available to the Greek die-carvers striving to make each tetradrachm as detailed as possible.
The second tactic is entirely reliant on advanced 21st Century technology.
The Royal Canadian Mint (RCM) is at the forefront of anti-counterfeiting technology with their digital non-destructive activation (DNA) system. This system is incredibly clever, relying on the unique microscopic features each coin has after being manufactured. Using patented Signoptic® technology, each coin’s laser-engraved maple leaf is scanned, and its one-of-a-kind microtexture is logged as genuine and authentic. This visual identification information is stored in a database.
Afterward, anyone can utilize a bullion DNA reader by inserting a coin into the tray that uses a camera first to identify and then verify the authenticity of the maple leaf security mark on the coin. It’s a revolutionary way for everyone, from bullion dealers and purchasers, to verify authenticity almost instantly.
This Bullion DNA™ technology is included in all gold maple leaf coins dated 2014 and later, and silver maple leaf coins dated 2015 and later.
In 2021, the Royal Mint unveiled the latest in coin design and security. The new Britannia gold and silver coins contain four new security features:
Because these features require highly advanced production technology (including picosecond lasers which can create lines 200 times narrower than a human hair), they’re virtually impossible for forgers and counterfeiters to replicate.
As one of the world’s leading bullion brands, PAMP maintains its security above all else. Similar to the Bullion DNA system pioneered by the RCM, PAMP’s Veriscan security system identifies microscopic differences in counterfeit coins that identify them as such. Unlike the Bullion DNA system, which requires a dedicated device, PAMP offers a mobile application for smartphones, making it even more convenient.
PAMP captures and stores detailed image data for each and every coin it produces. “Detailed” in this case refers to microscopic surface profiles, which are just as unique as a person’s fingerprints. This means, at any time in the future, a user of the Veriscan technology can use the application to take an image of the coin in their possession and check it against the PAMP database. If there is a match, the coin is authentic. Both coins and bars can be instantly authenticated or flagged as possible counterfeits using this technology.
Marking the coin’s 35th anniversary in 2021, the US Mint announced it was redesigning the American Eagle coins in both gold and silver for enhanced security. While details of the redesign are not yet finalized, the coin’s new security features are expected to be three-tiered.
First, there will likely be a security mark that is visible to the naked eye. Second, the coins are expected to have an identifiable security feature that industry experts will know how to identify. Last, a forensic detail that only the US Mint and Secret Service can identify is an expected security feature.
Near Field Communication (NFC) is a way for unique objects to be identified and relay information when scanned. NFC is the same technology that your mobile phone uses for touchless payment services, such as Apple Pay and Google Pay.
In precious metals, NFC microchips are embedded directly into the product and can be scanned by any wireless device for authentication. MintID is one such company that helps develop these NFC microchips for minting in coins.
According to MintID: “Each investment product is outfitted with a custom-designed NFC chip that has a unique encrypted and tamper-proof digital certificate. Using our mobile app each product can instantaneously be authenticated and guaranteed genuine by the ISO: 9001 facility that minted it.”
The British £1 coin got a security overhaul in 2017 with the help of a brand new technology-enabled design. These technologies led the Royal Mint to claim it’s the most difficult in the world to counterfeit.
The new £1 coin has the following properties:
Perhaps the most critical innovation in this new coin is the adoption of Integrated Secure Identification Systems (iSIS) technology which was already being used in securing banknotes. iSIS uses an additive directly in the coin to allow for high-speed, automated verification. The additive is not part of the surface coating, and therefore won’t wear over time, allowing these coins to circulate for 30-years with this added security feature.
The Royal Mint has created three different types of readers to identify authentic iSIS-enabled coins quickly and easily for anyone. These readers can also be embedded in coin processing machines like vending machines and the like. Unfortunately, no one knows what the iSIS anti-counterfeiting technology is exactly. It could be a type of concealed pattern like the EURion constellation, embedded in the coin’s design (or possibly inside the coin, visible only with advanced imaging devices). The Royal Mint isn’t saying.
This should help reduce forgeries on the £1 coin, which the Royal Mint previously estimated that 2.55% of all £1 coins in circulation in 2015 were counterfeit.
The traditional edge detail we see today on American dimes and quarters, called reeding, was originally developed to prevent people from shaving precious metals off the edges of coins before passing them on. With a bit of time and effort, a crook could build up quite a pile of gold and silver shavings, all gained from devaluing circulating coins.
Most coins produced today are made with intricate details along their edges. This includes engraved text, coloration, or differences in size and shape of each edge. While you might think this design feature is to make them look better, it’s actually a way to reduce counterfeits. These details are complex and time-consuming for counterfeiters to replicate.
In recent years, the Perth Mint has identified many counterfeit bullion gold bars hitting the market. As a result, the mint created tamper-evident packaging to ensure security for its bullion products. This packaging is blister-packed and comes with a watermark image of the mint’s swan logo to ensure authenticity. If the package is ever tampered with, the blister on the packaging turns a milky color, and the word “void” appears. This can help alert a potential purchaser that the bullion is either inauthentic or has been tampered with previously.
As technology improves, so too will anti-counterfeiting measures taken by the world’s leading coin producers. By incorporating more of the technology previously mentioned — like NFC tags, authentication systems, and more intricate designs — the circulation of counterfeit coins can be detected more efficiently and their prevalence reduced.
The most important factor in determining whether or not a coin or bullion is authentic? Provenance. Who did you get it from? A stranger on eBay or an established, certified, and trusted precious metals dealer? It’s more important now than ever that you can trust your precious metals purchases from a reputable dealer like BullionMax.