Device can detect counterfeits

RENO, Nev. - Gold and silver swindlers have been plying their cagey cons since the days of the Wild West, when they passed off slugs and fool’s gold as something far more precious. But more sophistication - combined with the global allure of the Internet that allows anyone, anywhere to buy and sell coins and ingots with the click of a mouse - has allowed scams to proliferate and forced the fight against fraud to use advancing technology. Experts now are able to identify atomic components that can trace metals to their mining district of origin, providing a sort of DNA fingerprint. Combined with an unprecedented historical record recovered from the ocean floor, the process is generating excitement among numismatists - coin collectors - and hobbyists, who say it could help expose disguised worthless trinkets and validate the authenticity of others. “There have been some exceptionally rare pieces questioned for a long time,” said Beth Deisher, editor of Coin World magazine. “If there is a process by which we can determine without question the origin of the gold, it could be a definite statement as to whether the pieces are real or fake.” For Fred Holabird and David Fitch of Reno, the endeavor is a melding of decades in the mining industry, a love of history and a determination to bore out truth. “It’s sort of like detective work,” said Fitch, who worked in mining exploration for more than 30 years and now consults. “In forming an ore deposit, nature carries its own fingerprint of an area. No two sites are the same.” “It’s treasure hunting at its best,” Holabird added.

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