If you’ve already read the Buying Coins section, you’ve seen the plethora of warnings about almost every way to buy coins. Whether you are buying or selling, there seems to be more people that will take advantage of you than will take care of you. As depressing as that is, it shouldn’t stop you from collecting coins! Simply educate yourself, be careful, and buy wisely. Be smart and be informed when you’re making a purchase.
Common Coin Scams
Fake Coins / Counterfeit Coins (Key Dates)
There are many fake / counterfeit coins floating around out there. Key dates are the most commonly manufactured or altered, because they yield the highest profit. If you are unsure about buying an expensive coin, please only purchase a coin that has been certified by one of the top four grading companies. Nothing will sour you on this fascinating hobby faster than paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for a fake coin.
Coins on TV
I have a general rule regarding coins on TV. If a coin is offered for sale on the TV, change the channel. If you don’t believe me, buy the coin, walk into a coin shop, and ask how much they will give you for it. Point proven.
Much like TV, the newspaper is filled with ‘deals’. These are in fact, not deals. (This does not necessarily include advertisements in coin publications.) Any advertisement referencing a ‘long lost hoard’ or a ‘recently discovered stockpile’ is a gigantic red flag.
There are dealers that would be more than happy to take you for a ride, so do your research and find a dealer you can trust. This will make a world of difference down the road when if you ever want to sell your collection.
“Legal Tender” from Liberia / Marshall Islands / etc…
Perhaps one of the biggest scams of our time. These coins are privately minted as ‘legal tender’ in some country you will probably never visit. This label adds a certain bit of legitimacy, at least from a marketing standpoint. Moreover, this ‘legal tender’ is virtually worthless to the vast majority of collectors. Save your $20.
Private Minted Coins
Privately minted coins rank right up there with the coins listed directly above. The vast majority have some image meant to appeal to the patriotism of a person, but how patriotic is a hunk of metal that is worth less than 10% of what you paid for it? These offers rank right up there with collector plates that were popular years ago.
BU Roll / OBW Roll
I’m leery of ever buying “BU BANK ROLLS”, as more times than not, a talented and well-educated coin guru has already pillaged the roll, taken out the few outstanding beauties inside, and replaced them with average specimens. I know BU Roll collectors, and while it is a rewarding aspect of the hobby, please be aware of the significant risks and costs.
Fake Commemorative Coins
There has recently been a growing number of fake commemorative coins on the market. Please make sure any commemorative coins you buy were issued by the US MINT.
Uncleaned Ancient Coins
I have personally fallen victim to this more times than I care to publicly admit. You see that auction for uncleaned coins that are thousands of years old and cost just a few dollars per coin. Let me tell you now, the treasure hunters that dig up these coins in Europe and the Middle East know EXACTLY what to pull out before sending the rest to a middleman overseas. I encourage you to pick a few up, and try your hand at cleaning them, but just know, if you’re looking to strike gold or clean up a valuable Greek coin to fund your retirement, you’re better off buying a lottery ticket on your way home from work.
Craigslist / Facebook Marketplace Scams
Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are gaining popularity, and it deserves mention that you should use the same caution when buying coins on these sites as you do anywhere else. Remember, these are free to post on, so anyone can post almost anything. I have routinely found that well over half of the advertisements for coins are ridiculously overpriced. Please buy with caution. (On a side note, always meet someone from online at a very public place, never give out your home address, and never feel like you HAVE to buy something just because you met them.)
eBay Coin Scams
There are so many scams on eBay, it deserves a separate sub-heading. (*Not all coins for sale on eBay are a scam, but this section should be used as a warning)
It is every coin lovers dream to find a giant hoard of unsearched coins and dive in… This is part of what draws us into the hobby, that inherent desire to find a gem in pile of forgotten metal. So let me ask you this.. IF you actually found a tub of old coins, would you dig in? or would you auction if off. I cannot stress this enough… UNSEARCHED AUCTIONS ARE GENERALLY NOT UNSEARCHED. Even if the seller didn’t search the coins, the previous 25 coin collectors have. The statistical odds of finding a rare coin in an eBay ‘unsearched’ coin lot are staggering if not astronomical. Sorry to beat it to death, but do you get the point here?
eBay is redefining the word RARE. Go ahead, type it into the search box. I just did this and got 4.8 MILLION auctions. That is some pretty common ‘rare’! Please research to find out what exactly is “rare”, and what is an overused word to fill space and attract innocent buyers.
“Dealer” lots are more times than not, garbage that the ‘dealer’ couldn’t sell. If they can’t sell it, do you want to buy it? (Sometimes the answer is yes, but please be cautious)
If you haven’t read the Coin Grading section of this site, do so next. There are some outright fraudulent coin grading ‘companies’ out there. An example is the yellow tagged holders that always seem to come back as a perfect coin, regardless of the condition. Another scam is putting 19 “graded/certified” coins on an auction, and then placing a PCGS BOX in the title, so people are mislead to think the coins have something to do with one of the top grading services. Please don’t give your money to people trying to scam you.
Fake Coins / Counterfeit Coins (Key Dates)
eBay is a breeding ground for counterfeit coin con artists. Pay attention to return policy, especially on high dollar key date coins. Also be mindful of the seller’s feedback. And again… if you don’t know what you’re doing, only shop for certified coins.
Unscrupulous sellers often begin their ads with: I’m not a collector / These were my neighbor’s old coins / I’m not an expert but in my opinion these are condition X / blah blah blah… I hate to generalize, but the vast majority of the time, after saying why they don’t know anything about coins, they start throwing around coin jargon that would parallel the nerdiest of coin nerds. Take a look at the other auctions they have and have had listed and watch the language. It could give you a little insight as to whether or not they know what they are doing.
When the seller has a choice of dates and mint marks, look up in your Red Book the highest mintage and lowest prices for the series offered… That is exactly what you will be getting.
Pay special attention to how much a seller is charging for shipping. A coin may be a steal at $1, but add on the $5 – $8 for shipping, and it may not be looking so great.