Monday, August 4, 2014

Replica vs Real: 1oz Gold PAMP Bar Comparison

It was bought to my attention that there are fake Gold bars being sold on ebay that replicate popular investment grade 1oz Gold bars. On this occasion they were being advertised as pure bars in the title, but if you read the full description it did state they are only layered in pure Gold. Having some real PAMP 1oz Bars myself I decided to buy one of the replicas to provide a comparison for others (and it arrived late last week). 

I have written about fake Gold and Silver products in the past, you can read my previous posts at these links:

Warning: Fake/Counterfeit Silver & Gold

Counterfeit Silver Lunar Dragons - Don't Get Stung!

Fake/Counterfeit Silver Lunar Coins on eBay, BEWARE! (Perth Mint Replicas)

The ebay auction from which I purchased my fake bar was titled “1 Oz Switzerland Pamp Suisse PURE 24K .999 1oz Gold Bullion Coin Bar Ingot”. The full description was as follows:

Brand new "1oz Switzerland Pamp Suisse bar " This bar is not solid gold.  It is clad/layered in pure fine 100Mills of 24k gold. This is a high quality item beautifully designed and manufactured to very high standard by master craftsmen in a small family owned mint in Australia.

Weight 1 ounce. 30 grams.


Beautifully designed and this Gold Bullion bar will be delivered to you in a free protective airtight capsule.
The title and parts of the description appear intentionally worded to try and deceive unwary buyers into mistaking it for a pure Gold bar from PAMP Suisse, even if it did also mention that it’s not solid and clad/layered. This reminds me of the old ‘console box’ scam where a seller advertises the box of a new console, stating as such, but obviously intending for buyers to bid thinking it’s the whole system. 

The seller of the fake Gold bar also suggested in the description that it was manufactured in Australia, when it’s clearly just a Chinese knockoff, likely to have been purchased from Alibaba (China's biggest online commerce company, which will be floated on the stock market later this year). Further to the misleading wording, the auction also had 3 images, the first two images depicted a real PAMP Suisse 1oz Gold Bar, with the final image showing one of the fake bars the buyer will actually receive.

Below is a photo comparison of the fake bar I received and a real bar, can you tell which is which before enlarging to view the detail and labels? See the top right corner of each image for the answer (click each image to enlarge):

Without the cropping it becomes a lot more obvious which is the fake, see below for a size comparison (click the image to enlarge):

Some obvious design differences include:

- No border around 'PAMP Suisse' logo on real bar
- Missing 'TROY' in text on fake bar (and wording order differs)
- Missing serial number on fake bar
- Corners are more rounded on real bar
- Detail on 'Lady Fortuna' design more intricate on real bar
- Real bar has a stronger yellow hue under the same lighting

Here are some specifications showing the weight and size difference between the fake and real PAMP Suisse bar…

Weight of fake bar (in plastic): 39.80g
Weight of real bar (in plastic): 36.28g

Weight of fake bar (out of plastic): 31.49g
Weight of real bar (per official specifications): 31.10g

Measurements of fake bar: 50 x 28 x 3 (mm)
Measurements of real bar (per official specifications): 41 x 24 x 1.70 (mm)

In this case it was relatively easy to differentiate the fake from the real bar, but keep in mind a copy like this can be purchased in bulk for less than US$1 per piece. There’s nothing to say that better quality fakes (including replication of the official packaging) might be out there. If they can produce this for less than a dollar, then imagine the quality of fake they could produce for $10.

By the way, if you were wondering about the red spots on the real bar, they are a common occurrence even on pure Gold bars and coins (via Lynn Coins):

Gold coins (and even pure gold bars) can sometimes develop brown (rust colored spots) on them. Yes, a gold plated item (when the gold plating wears off) would expose the non-gold metal underneath and that exposed metal could tarnish or rust. However, a brown or reddish spot on gold doesn't mean the item is not real solid gold. Here's why:

Rust spots or brown spots can occur on genuine gold coins when a very faint trace of other metal adheres to the surface of the coin or bar. As the other metal is exposed to oxygen or other materials in the surrounding air (can even be the air that is in the holder) it causes that trace metal to change color.

Often the a faint amount of trace metal or other material will get on the dies prior to the  striking of the coin or bar. When the coin is struck the molecules of the other metal (or impurities) are then fixed into the coin.  They may be so thin or dispersed that they are not obvious to the naked eye. Other times such impurities may come in contact with the coin blank before striking it into a coin. This surface discoloration can occur on gold coins and gold bars.
Be vigilant when buying precious metals, there’s likely to be more unscrupulous sellers than those who try to mislead, but confirm in the detail that they are selling a layered product. Some may even market a listing with description and images of real bars, but then send fake products while hoping the buyer doesn’t realise they are being swindled.

Some of the ways you can protect yourself when buying precious metals:

  • Buy from bullion dealers who source their product through official channels (I can recommend site sponsor Bullion Money for an Australian company and have also had good dealings with Gold Stackers, Bullion List, Perth Bullion, Perth Mint, City Gold Bullion, Ainslie Bullion Company and Bullion Mark, amongst others).
  • If the bullion dealer you are buying from sells buy-backs (second-hand), ensure they have equipment to test what they’re selling to you (e.g. XRF machine).
  • Limit the size of any single order with an individual or dealer to an amount you’d be prepared to lose if the deal goes sour.
  • When buying from ebay, pay with PayPal to ensure you are protected (this doesn’t cost the buyer any extra if purchasing through ebay).
  • If you are unsure about a the legitimacy of a product you’ve purchased, see if there is a local bullion dealer with an XRF machine who can test it for you.
Another way to test whether the product you have is pure Gold is to perform a specific gravity test.

Bullion manufacturers have been innovating in this space, but those replicating their products never seem to be far behind in copying their features. Take every precaution you can when turning your hard earned fiat into hard assets.

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