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eBay agrees to take copied coins off site
by Trentonian

Collector gets counterfeit Canadian coins removed from eBay

An Eastern Ontario man is rejoicing in the recent success of his two-year campaign to get counterfeits of classic Canadian coins dropped from eBay.

But it was a long and often frustrating haul for Mike Marshall, a collector and military retiree.

Marshall, 48, first faced a wall of disinterest and dismissal from police, plus officials in Ottawa, he said in an interview from Trenton.

And he said several “unscrupulous secondary sellers” who knowingly bought the made-in-China fakes then offered them for resale as genuine rarities, tried to undermine his attempt to alert officials, the public and collecting world.

“I even had someone threaten me on an eBay chat line,” Marshall said.

What he and the RCMP got removed over the past week are not poorly moulded lead quarters, half-dollars and even the occasional dime and nickel that crooks duped the public with in the first half of the last century.

Instead, they are die-struck fakes of older Canadian and Newfoundland coins from large copper cents to gold spheres.

Six Chinese firms still produce them and legitimately sell their product in China, but they’re no longer listed on eBay, said Bret Evans, managing editor of the Canadian Coin News.

Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949, but its old coins remain valid as pocket change, so fakes -- not marked as being copies -- fall under federal anti-counterfeiting laws.

The RCMP counterfeiting investigator, who backed Marshall and joined his campaign, said eBay will issue a statement today about banning sales of Chinese-made so-called “replica” and “copy” coins which were advertised with warning marks but were rarely counter-stamped as such.

Toronto-based eBay Canada Ltd. did not return an interview request made last Friday.

But earlier this week, RCMP Sgt. Tony Farahbakhchian praised officials at the California-based internet auction firm’s headquarters.

“It is a big victory,” he told the Sun from his Surrey, B.C. office. “We’ve had the utmost co-operation from eBay.”

They were not aware of the situation,” Farahbakhchian said. “They didn’t think they were doing anything wrong and we have thousands of these coins out there.”

Thanks to Marshall, the RCMP will have one of each -- a reference collection of 117 fake coins which, he said, cost $1,200.

He paid $221 for a complete set of 80 coins still available for direct purchase from one Beijing firm. If genuine, they would list in the trends column of the Canadian Coin News, a St. Catharines-based hobby paper, for $296,312.

‘Huge Part’

“Mr. Marshall played a huge part of it,” Farahbakhchian said of his efforts. “He spearheaded this.”

Collectors can pay big bucks for rare coins.

Not all replicas were of key coins, Evans said. But even those that appeared shiny and new appealed to collectors who could normally only afford a low-grade worn coin.

The problem is not just the buyer who wanted a good-looking coin, Marshall said.

It is also an unknowing estate seller or, worse, fraudsters who list them on eBay as genuine rarities worth hundreds, even thousands of dollars, Farahbakhchian said.

A knowledgeable collector can spot most copies by their metal content and slightly larger size, Marshall said.

Closer examination reveals mistakes such as incorrect typefaces and other flaws.

But Marshall said “unless you engrave them or mark them as copies, they’re going to find their way on to the market.”

“People would lose faith in the integrity of Canadian coins,” Farahbakhchian said.

Ironically, Marshall said, a U.S.-based eBay executive told him sales of Canadian coin copies would be halted if a police or government agency alerted them that making, selling or possessing fakes is illegal under federal laws.

“I begged local police to seize the ones I bought,” to get the story out as a warning, he said. “They just laughed at me.”

A senior official at the Royal Canadian Mint in Ottawa appeared interested during initial discussions, “but I haven’t heard back from him in quite a while.”

Federal officials took notice after Farahbakhchian alerted investigators two months ago at an anti-counterfeiting conference in Niagara Falls, showing them detailed articles Marshall wrote in the paper.

“Technically, you cannot possess any counterfeit coin,” the Mountie said. “It’s subject to the RCMP seizing them.”

The RCMP, however, is kept much busier chasing mass counterfeit currency crooks, plus importers of often-shoddy foreign-made fake commercial products.

To prosecute someone even with a small counterfeit collection, “you have to prove the person knew they were fake,” Farahbakhchian said.

In the U.S., collectors can legally own a small reference collection of forgeries.

China permits production of coins pre-dating 1949. In addition to having an RCMP computer link for collectors to view the fakes Marshall donated, Farahbakhchian plans to have the force’s liaison officer appeal to its government to have companies cease making Canadian replicas.

As a collector, “I can tell the difference, but these are dangerously close,” he said. “People inheriting such coins may not know they are fakes.”

Examples of fakes that could fool an uninformed buyer include copies of a 1921 50 cents silver coin which fetches up to $100,000 if real.

Since beginning his appeal, Marshall said, “I get at least two calls a week from people who have been duped.”

In one classic case of money not well spent, Edmonton collector Neal Shymko paid $4,000 for made-in China copies of Canadian coins he later learned were fakes.

A senior who lives near Trenton recently contacted Marshall about an 1894 50 cents piece which the buyer thought was worth thousands of dollars. He was left broken-hearted that “he spent a great deal of money on a $3 piece of slag.”

One Hong Kong firm even tarnished some copies of its “key date” 1948 silver dollars – rarest of the large coins circulated from 1935-67 – to appeal to collectors who knew top-grade versions had been faked.

For more information about real and fake Canadians coins, Marshall recommends a website: canadiancoin.com.


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