Jewelry Scammers: How to Spot Them and What to Avoid

“Hey, can you help me out? My car’s out of gas,” the man says as he waves you down outside the grocery store. “My credit cards were stolen and I need some quick cash. Could you buy my 18-Karat (k) gold necklace? It’s at least $1,000 at any pawn shop, but anything helps.”

You assess the jewelry and see a seemingly heavy, gold necklace with the 18k stamp of authenticity. It appears legitimate enough, and the man seems desperate and frantic. Is this a deal too good to be true, or are you helping someone in need?

Jewelry scams like these are swindling thousands of individuals out of their hard earned money across the country. From California to Toronto, Canada, scammers line highways, gas stations, grocery stores, and parking lots awaiting susceptible buyers for their fraudulent jewelry. Don’t be fooled. This level of deception is a misdemeanor according to Title 18 of the United States federal criminal code, and could leave you hundreds of dollars in the negative and one brass or copper necklace richer—figuratively speaking, of course.

To avoid these common deceptions, let’s consider some of the following details to keep you informed, safe, and savvy in the world of jewelry scams.

How do I know if gold is really gold?

Plenty of tests can determine the legitimacy of gold, and some are even conducted without the need of extraneous tools. This know-how is invaluable when encountering situations as mentioned above, not only for scams, but as general knowledge when confronted with gold from any source. Some pawn shops or jewelry stores may have been scammed themselves, and are attempting to sell fraudulent pieces without even knowing. These details are worth considering whenever valuable assets are on the line.

  1. Stamp Testing

Also known as hallmarks, this stamp traditionally displays the manufacturer, Karat worth (10k, 14k, 18k, etc.), Millesimal fineness (333, 375, 417, 585, etc.), or other identifying features to indicate the value and purity of gold. 

If markings on the underside resemble the following, it indicates plating on gold, denoting a small percentage of actual gold used with other filler metals:

  • GP: Gold Plated

  • GEP: Gold Electroplated

  • RGP: Rolled Gold Plate

  • HGE: Heavy Gold Electroplate

  • HGP: Heavy Gold Plated

  1. Magnetic Testing

This simple and effective test is applied with a magnet, preferably strong and large enough to apply over sections of your jewelry. Gold in room-temperature conditions will not react to magnetism, providing a reasonably accurate indicator whether jewelry is in fact gold, or plated with alternative magnetic materials.

Don’t rely entirely on this test, as some gold may be mixed with fine amounts of non-magnetized base metals. The magnetism won’t account for other materials potentially mixed with the gold itself, providing a false verification of its purity. Visiting reputable dealers like Infinity Coins, and those who carry guild associations like the Professional Numismatists Guild, will ensure extensive gold testing methods are conducted as accurately and ethically as possible.

  1. Acidic Testing

Adding to the allure and luxury of gold is its inability to rust, corrode, or dissolve under normal conditions. The exceptions, however, come from aqua regia, a nitrohydrochloric acid capable of dissolving gold. Many reputable dealers, pawn shops, or appraisal facilities conduct acid testing for initial determinations of gold’s purity. 

The less corrosive method which does not dissolve gold involves nitric acid, which dissolves any base metals it touches, leaving only the gold itself to verify purity. To apply your own testing methods, conduct the following test:

  • Take a dark stone and the piece of gold you’d like to test. Softly rub the gold on the stone, leaving a colored and noticeable streak (it is recommended to use an obscure part of the jewelry, as to not show obvious scratches or tarnishing).

  • Add a small drop of nitric acid to the streak. If the jewelry is actually gold, the streak will remain and any base metals, or fake gold, will dissolve.

  • To further verify the streak is in fact gold, apply nitrohydrochloric acid to the originally tested streak. If the gold dissolves, it has proven itself to be authentic.

  1. Machine Testing

For the most accurate and reliable method of ensuring authenticity, a Kee Gold Tester is often used to determine a 10 - 24k range of gold or platinum purity. Electromagnetic waves pass through the gold, displaying a resistance range of calibrated purities of karat. If the tester detects ranges not within the realm of the karat resistance, a simple indication informs the user of its validity, or lack thereof.

  • Precious Metals Verifier (PMV): Similar to a Kee Gold Tester, a precious metals verifier works to accurately measure the electrical conductivity of gold, silver, platinum, or other precious metals. Facilities or dealers with equipment as valuable as this can be trusted to determine the validity of bullion coins and bars, as well as base metals.

  • X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometer: Metals, as well as base elements, emit a fluorescent X-ray, detected through spectroscopy, unique to their base properties. If an item is legitimately gold, silver, platinum, etc, the spectrometer analyzes the set of characteristics to determine the purity and type of element. Even more valuable and accurate than other detection methods, x-ray fluorescence will not harm the material being tested, although it does require safety precautions to prevent average-level radiation exposure.

Testing methods are extensive, and these are only some of the many ways of testing gold’s purity. When faced with a split second decision to purchase gold from a parking lot solicitor, you’re likely unable to conduct the necessary tests to accurately determine the worth or integrity of the jewelry. With this in mind, it is highly recommended to never make uninformed purchases from unknown jewelry vendors and desperate salesmen. These are likely scams, cons, or schemes to swindle you into fake jewelry purchases.

How do I know if diamonds are really diamonds?

The beautiful shimmer of a finely cut diamond can dazzle and awe, but how can we tell it’s really a diamond? From an untrained eye, imitation diamonds can look almost exactly alike, making these a known commodity of scammers and con artists. 

Diamond Simulants

Far cheaper and easier to manufacture, simulants are fake diamonds created from various chemical and physical properties. Some of these are classified under the following:

  • Rhinestone

  • Moissanite

  • Quartz

  • Topaz

  • Cubic Zirconia

  • Rutile

  • Zircon

  • Spinel

  • White Sapphire

Lab Grown Diamonds

A modern substitution for a naturally found carbon diamond is a lab-grown variation. These substitutes are 100% identical to naturally found diamonds, including their hardness on the Mohs scale, their refractive index, carbon composition, and crystallized structure. They’re so real, in fact, they aren’t considered simulant diamonds at all. So what’s the difference? They’re grown in a lab rather than harvested from the earth. If you’re willing to pay half-price for a synthetically manufactured diamond, lab-grown is the way to go.

If your goal is to acquire a naturally found diamond of the utmost quality, your best option is to visit a reputable jewelry store or certified precious metals dealer. There, they can determine the type of diamond, whether synthetic, simulant, or genuine, and assess the quality by cut, shape, clarity, and size. Unless you’re a trained gemologist, determining the integrity of a diamond at first glance is best left to the experts.

Your most accurate jewelry conclusion

Cons are on the rise, which means your skepticism should be, too. Unqualified jewelry salesmen from any shady locale should be avoided at all costs. Be wary of the fast sales pitch, desperation, and guaranteed quality off the street. Jewelers, coin dealers, and pawn shops are seeing an increase in conned victims, making the awareness of these schemes a fiscal necessity.

Always consider a reputable jeweler or precious metals dealer for any valuable purchase or negotiation. These transactions come with verified products and organizational affiliations to protect your valuable assets. Along with accurate testing procedures and years of experience, dealers can ensure you buy what you pay for. Reach out to a local dealer like Infinity Coins to assess your current or newly purchased items for further evaluation.

Published online: Nov 18, 2021