Sunday, March 20, 2011

Authentically Fake

Perhaps you've seen the commercials: a shiny gold-colored coin slowly rotates while a voice describes it as a "$50 Gold Buffalo Tribute Coin". The narrator of the commercial goes on and on about how valuable gold is and how it is likely to rise in value, and how this "$50 coin" offered at only $9.95 is "clad" in "pure" 24 karat gold. It comes with a "certificate of authenticity" and is a "re-creation" of the "purest gold coin ever made". It goes on to say that with gold "skyrocketing past $1,300 an ounce" the $9.95 price can only be guaranteed for seven days, creating a sense of urgency.

Most anyone with common sense knows they are not getting a solid gold coin worth even $50 for $9.95, but the mention of the coin being "clad" in "pure" 24 karat gold, followed by the mention of how gold is skyrocketing in price, gives one the feeling that what they are purchasing surely must be worth more than what they are being charged, and that, even if it isn't, it surely will be once the price of gold and/or the value of this "collector's item" rises.

Even the most astute observer can be fooled if bombarded with the many misleading terms and phrases catapulted in this advertisement. When an amateur coin-collecting friend of mine asked me to look into this, even I was amazed at how carefully crafted the words they used were and, how even though the words they were using were technically accurate, the advertisement could easily leave one with the impression that they were purchasing something completely different than what was actually being sold.

For those who enjoy the study of misleading advertisements, or if you're curious as to whether or not this coin might still be worth $9.95 (it is, after all, "clad" in 24 karat gold) here is a breakdown of what the words used in this ad really mean, with each portion of the title underlined explained individually:

$50 Gold Buffalo Tribute Coin/Proof:

A "proof" coin is simply a coin that has been made with a specially polished and treated die in order to create a cameo-like effect, with the raised part of the coin standing out from a mirror-like "background" (flat surface) of the coin. Proof coins are struck twice or more, but beyond that, that's all a "proof" coin is. You could design anything, manufacture it in any kind of metal using a specially treated die, and call it a "proof".

Furthermore, any facility that manufactures coins can be called a "mint". You can create a "mint" in your own back yard if you want to manufacture metal discs with designs on them. It doesn't convey the right to create legal tender with monetary value.

$50 Gold Buffalo Tribute Coin/Proof:

Tribute simply means that this coin pays "tribute" to the original. In other words, it's a fake, a replica, a copy. In fact, U.S. federal law requires that the word "copy" appear on the coin for this very reason. If you look closely at the coin in the advertisement (also available on the web site where the coin is sold) you can see the word "copy" is engraved into the braid of the head on the coin.

In the advertisement, the term "non-monetary" is used, but when it appears in the middle of so many other misleading words, it's barely noticeable. Also, in the audio of the commercial, the term "non-monetary" is spoken so quickly it's almost impossible to discern what is being said.

What's humorous is that this is actually a "tribute to a tribute". You see, the original coin was a buffalo nickel, and then in 2006 the U.S. Mint produced a gold coin with a face value of $50 (but with an actual value much higher, since it was an actual solid gold coin) based on the original buffalo nickel produced between 1913-1938.

$50 Gold Buffalo Tribute Coin/Proof:

The word "gold" can mean many things. In this case, the description says it is "clad" in "pure 24 karat gold". What's important to remember is that "clad" simply means that it is plated in 24 karat gold.

The phrase "clad in 14 milligrams of pure gold" is designed to fool you into thinking that the coin is made of solid gold. Even if you are momentarily distracted from their misleading jargon by your knowledge of what the word "clad" means, they're counting on you to focus on "pure" and not to know just how little 14 milligrams of "pure" gold is. As it turns out, as of the date of this blog post, 14 milligrams of pure gold has a value of between $.60 and $1.21, meaning that this copy of the original, even with its "pure 24 karat gold" isn't worth much more than sixty cents.

$50 Gold Buffalo Tribute Coin/Proof:

Someone posted a question somewhere on a forum asking if the coin couldn't be used to purchase $50 worth of merchandise in a store, since it has a face value of $50 stamped onto the coin. Again, this shows how few people understand that "tribute" means fake and that this coin is NOT legal tender of any kind and has absolutely no monetary value beyond its artistic value and the sixty cents worth of gold in which it is coated.

The company selling this junk is playing on the emotions of the public, hoping their desire for financial security in a difficult economy will prevent them from thinking clearly. It's sleazy and manipulative behavior to use such an arsenal of misleading words and we can expect to see more of this.

Towards the end of the commercial, the announcer says: "avoid disappointment and future regret", imploring you to purchase the full "limit" of five of these virtually worthless coins, as if you'll spend the rest of your days lamenting the fact that you didn't buy them when you had the chance if you don't place your order immediately.

The "certificate of authenticity" only serves to further mislead any potential customers watching late-night television (which is when most of these commercials are aired). The "authenticity" refers only to the authenticity of the gold used to plate these coins, NOT the coins themselves. The coins themselves are not authentic and are copies.

Further investigation into the "National Collector's Mint" (the word "National" is clearly an attempt to appear to be an official government agency) shows that they are the same company which manufactured the "Freedom Tower Silver Coins", for which then Attorney General Elliott Spitzer issued a court order in October of 2004 for the company to halt production of the coins.

The Better Business Bureau has received many complaints about the company, which can be viewed here.

This company doesn't deserve to exist, but it does have the legal right to do so. For now. The best way to shorten the life of this company, however, is to not give them your business, and to tell everyone you know about their misleading advertising and what they are really selling.