I will preface this article by saying this is not a vendetta piece against PCGS, NGC, nor any other third-party grader. It is merely a statement of facts and implications of the scope of Chinese counterfeiting to inform potentially unaware collectors. All statements are true and have been verified to the best of my ability. If anything is factually incorrect, I will publicly apologize and request for a correction to be made. Please correct me if anything is incorrect. No opinions or assumptions are being put forth unless explicitly described as such. Gaps in my knowledge will be indicated as well. The Scope Counterfeit slabs have been around since 2007/2008, and have become endemic in the ensuing decade. Since they are produced in China alongside genuine PCGS/NGC holders, PCGS and NGC are powerless to stop the counterfeiting. They, however, have a copyright claim in the US and can take action against anyone in the US knowingly distributing fake slabs. However, the vast majority are either not detected, or no serious action is taken to remove them from the market. The TPGs are not to blame for this. When a fake holder is spotted, both PCGS and NGC will update their respective verification pages to warn anyone looking up the certification number. However, PCGS and NGC have taken two very different approaches to proactively combat the issue. Slab Verification NGC has been taking pictures of each and every coin they certify since fake slabs started appearing on the market (and possibly before, but I have not confirmed this). However, the photos are poorly lit resulting in brown copper coins being almost impossible to match to NGC’s pictures. For all other coins, identifying marks can be distinguished and matched to the coin in hand. This is of limited use to MS/PF-69/70 modern coins because there are few/no identifying marks. Use of other tools, such as the Sigma PMV, or simply comparing the slab itself to the pics can be used instead (comparing the barcode, for example). PCGS only provides pictures when they are paid to take them or is submitted in an upper grading tier (AKA TrueViews). If the coin in question does not have a TrueView, then other methods must be performed. They are coming out with a new RFID chip idea for their slabs, but since it only applies to Gold Shield holders (which have TrueViews), it is very redundant and not helpful to the collector. Maybe they will extend it to all slabs, but there are still decades of unprotected slabs. Heritage, Great Collections, and eBay sellers (per eBay rules) list the certification number in the listing. The listings can be looked up in Google by searching the serial number and the TPG name (eg. PCGS 12345678). There are pictures are are sufficiently good to verify whether or not the coin in hand matches the one in the pictures. Be aware that the slab in the eBay listing could be fake, so use discretion. Keep in mind that if the coin is fake, but the slab is genuine, then you are covered by PCGS’/NGC’s authenticity guarantee. Having a picture provided by the TPG or submitter (Heritage, etc.) of the coin in the slab makes making the claim much easier. However, if the holder is counterfeit, you are on your own, and your only recourse is a refund from the seller or legal action. Preventing Data Mining A form of Data Mining is when an entity rapidly and repeatedly puts in various inputs and records the outputs. Relevant to this topic is inputting a serial number and recording the coin type, date/mint, and grade. This information is extremely useful for counterfeiters because they can create a database of type/date/mint/grade with matching serial numbers. Then all they have to do is put a “correct” counterfeit coin into the fake slab. NGC’s verification tool on their website requires knowledge of both the serial number and the grade. In addition, the website limits how many cert lookups can be completed in a given amount of time (at least they did. It used to be very strict, but they either loosened it up or did away with it. I am not sure.). In addition, the serial numbers are composed of a batch number and the number of the coin within the batch, so knowledge of the number of coins in the batch is also required. All three of these things greatly inhibit a successful data mining operation. PCGS’s verification does not require any info other than the serial number. I do not know if they limit the number/speed of lookup attempts, but I have not heard that they have. I would like to assume that they have put such measures in place. Their serial numbers also simply increase numerically (for the most part; not every number is used), so it is very simple to create an input/output database. These are probably the reasons why counterfeit PCGS slabs are far more prevalent than NGC slabs. In Heritage, one can search their archives using slab serial numbers. Since their coin operation is highly commoditized, all of the relevant info is stored explicitly and concisely in the listing title. Most of the compromised slab serial numbers can be verified on Heritage, which indicates that they possibly do not have a limiter on search attempts. This also implies that PCGS might have a limiter on its own website. How Can You Reduce the Risk to Yourself? There are several practices you can employ to protect yourself from fake slabs: Learn how to authenticate coins. Most of the coins have obvious indicators of inauthenticity. Send me your email via PM and I will send you slides from a counterfeit detection seminar I gave at FUN earlier this year. Learn how to grade coins. The vast majority of the fakes in the counterfeit holders are much higher grade than what the slab says. If the coin is obviously 4 grade levels or higher (eg AU-50 vs VF-30 or MS-68 vs MS-64), treat it with suspicion. PCGS and NGC are highly competent and very, very, VERY rarely make such a big mistake. Also, if the coin is significantly overgraded (by >2 grade levels), also treat it with suspicion. Not only do you not want to buy it, it could be a genuine coin in a fake holder. PCGS only guarantees their grade within around 2 grade levels. Any more they reserve the right to claim that it was just a “mechanical error.” Become intimately familiar with genuine slab appearances, style, feel, font, etc. This will require handling thousands of genuine slabbed coins. Look up the slab serial number on the TPG website or on Google and see if there is a picture you can match to. If there are no pictures, seriously consider passing on the coin if you are not confident in your authentication abilities. If you are confident in your authentication abilities, then go ahead. Just be aware of the limited recourse options you have if the slab turns out to be fake, and possibly limit your purchases to only dealers who guarantee their wares. Check for any evidence that the slab is a snap-together design. Real slabs are sonically sealed. Many of the counterfeit slabs are composed of two halves that snap together. Examples There is a wide range of quality in the counterfeit slabs. This example is very low quality with a very obvious counterfeit coin in it. Very few collectors would be fooled by this, but some probably would be. No pictures are available online of the genuine coin, so it could not be visually verified. Here is a higher-quality counterfeit in a counterfeit slab. The counterfeit is gem quality, while the slab says AU-58. Someone might get greedy and hope for a big upgrade payday, but the coin is obviously fake, as is the holder. The coin could be verified using images from Heritage. No TrueView. Here is a high-quality counterfeit coin in a counterfeit holder. This one is particularly scary as the grade is very close to that on the slab. It could be verified using images from Heritage. No TrueView. And here is a genuine coin in a fake slab. Note how it looks like an XF-45 but is in an AU-55 slab. That is a red flag. Also note how the hologram sticker is covering up the QR code. It was sent in to PCGS, where they deemed it to be a genuine coin in a fake slab. No pictures were available to verify this coin. Conclusion This day and age of computers and the internet has greatly exacerbated the prevalence of counterfeit coins and slabs in the market. The trajectory of the improvement in technology and sophistication of counterfeits is not going to abate anytime soon, meaning the problem is only going to get worse. That means it is of paramount importance to be able to visually verify a certified coin. NGC realized this and took the initiative to take pictures of each and every coin they certified so that they can be matched up in the wild. While their photo quality has its shortcomings (particularly with brown coppers), the photos are by and large a huge help in slab verification. PCGS, on the other hand, has chosen to not photograph the coins they certify unless paid to do so or if the coin is submitted in a high-enough tier. They have taken this approach for over a decade despite knowing about the existence of counterfeit slabs. That means that there are millions of potentially-compromised PCGS slab certification numbers, and only a fraction can be visually verified using the techniques outlined above. Coupled with the relative ease of data-mining PCGS serial numbers, this is the perfect opportunity for counterfeiters and scammers. For entry-level collectors and dealers who are dependent on the slabs for authenticity and grade accuracy, this creates a particularly dangerous situation. These reasons culminate into a drastic opinion of mine: PCGS slabs are no longer safe to blindly trust and buy!