Does Fake Silver exist?
There are plenty of articles on the web mainly focusing on coins from Bulgaria and China. Whilst I’m unable to comment upon the factual truth of these articles I can say that Fake Silver does exist! Counterfeit Gold as well, it is well documented with photographic evidence available for those prepared to search a little.
Should I be worrying about it?
Most definitely! As Silver moves upwards in price there is more profit available for counterfeiters out there. Though initially fake silver was most likely to be predominantly focused upon the 400 oz bars you see in movies or in the picture on the right, there isn’t much market for the sale of these to the general public and the central banks and high security vaults that take delivery of these items (should) have in place stringent security checks.
In response to this counterfeiters will target smaller bars to make this available to the general public who don’t know how to spot a fake. With a 1 oz bar of Silver costing around £23 and a 1 kg bar nearing £600 (as of Sept 2016) there are huge profits to be made.
What is Fake Silver made from?
For anyone who has ever handled Silver the first thing you will notice is how incredibly heavy it is compared to anything else. In fact Silver is 10.49 times heavier than water making it hard to imitate.
Some common metals for instance steel or lead are close in weight but not exactly the same. In fact Lead is one of the few commonly found metals which is similar in weight and it has a density of 11.35 g/cm3. So a 1 kg Lead bar would be more than 8% larger in size, making it very easily distinguishable.
Another commonly used metal is Nickel Silver which is an alloy of Nickel, Copper and Zinc and is often used by craftsmen whilst training how to work with Silver in the jewellery industry. The specific density of Nickel Silver is between 8.4 and 8.9, so it is once again distinguishable by a weight to size comparison.
Of course if you use a lighter alloy on the outside with a lead central core you can imitate the precise density and size of Silver.
How can I tell the difference?
Firstly Silver is not magnetic. So a simple test is to use a magnet to try and pick up your Silver. If it moves its not pure Silver!
The main test for Silver is the acid test as Silver is relatively inert. Unfortunately so are many of the substances used to fake Silver and if the bar is Silver plated then this will negate the test.
Of course you can drill into the bar to see if the inside is the same and then acid test the interior but of course this is intrusive.
Also 999.0 fineness Silver is actually quite malleable and can be easily dented by a sharp fingernail, though once again this is intrusive and depending on the thickness of the Silver layer, you may still be fooled.
So what is the answer? Well I’m afraid that other than intrusive and damaging testing the only option is a sonic or electrical test. An ultrasound can be calibrated to detect Silver and distinguish impurities or a sensitive electrical test can be performed to measure the resistive properties. Neither of which I would expect your average person to have to hand.
My final glimmer of hope to you is that you can do a sound test quite simply, though clearly it is very subjective and has a high degree of error. As Silver is so malleable it makes a different sound when struck against something. Pure Silver should give a long high ring when struck.
How do I protect myself from buying a counterfeit?
Fortunately the answer to this is very simple. You MUST always buy from a reputable dealer. Any good dealer will guarantee the purity of their Silver as they will only be buying from a reputable source.
I can assure you that I get offered tons of Silver every month from all over the world. Offers come in all the time with guarantees of purity, constant levels of supply and below spot prices. I assure you that with the huge upfront cost and the high risks involved you are unlikely to ever see any Silver if you pursue these deals alone.