WASHINGTON — Concerned that all that glitters is not gold, the U.S. Mint said Tuesday that it wanted to crack down on unscrupulous coin dealers passing off fake commemorative coins.
Mint officials said they would seek authority to impose stiff fines on scam artists who were bilking the public by selling coins that had been painted or otherwise altered as official commemorative coins.
"We regard the problem as significant for new collectors, for the elderly and for those who are buying coins to give as gifts," Mint Director Henrietta Holsman Fore said.
The popularity of coin collecting has soared in recent years as the Mint has offered new products such as the 50-state quarter series, which the Mint estimates 140 million Americans are collecting.
The problem, Fore said, is that the resurgence in coin collecting is also bringing out fraudulent operators.
"Congress is the only group that can authorize a commemorative coin, and the United States Mint is the only entity that can strike them," Fore said. "It is sad to think that customers, especially the elderly, will fall victim to deceptive advertising."
Mint officials said that one business had been offering a "commemorative" coin to honor the astronauts who died in the Columbia Space Shuttle accident. The coins were, in reality, just silver dollars that had been colorized, something that is not done by the Mint.
In another case, New York Atty. Gen. Eliot Spitzer in October took legal action against a company that was selling what it claimed were commemorative coins minted from silver recovered at ground zero of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The Mint is seeking authorization to impose civil fines of $5,000 for each print advertisement and $25,000 for each broadcast advertisement that misuses the name or emblems of the Mint or the Treasury Department. The fines would be aimed at halting deceptive advertising that implies that the coins being offered for sale have been endorsed by the government.