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Consummate Consumer

U.S. Mint to Coin New Rule on 'Commemoratives'

By Don Oldenburg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 25, 2005; Page C10

Unscrupulous coin marketers are making a mint fooling naive consumers with ads that imply their unofficial or bogus products are authentic government-authorized coinage. So U.S. Mint officials say a proposed regulation, calling for stiff fines against scammers who misuse the U.S. Treasury or Mint name or emblem to deceive customers, is right on the money.

"Tens of millions of dollars are spent on such products because of misleading ads," says Henrietta Holsman Fore, director of the U.S. Mint. "It is sad to think that some consumers . . . will fall victim to deceptive advertising and purchase trinkets for loved ones, mistakenly believing they are United States Mint products."

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The new regulation would target deliberate deception, such as ads for "commemorative coins" that imply they are U.S. Mint products. One such ad, say Mint officials, promotes a $19.95 "Operation Freedom" commemorative -- actually a Kennedy half-dollar painted with a patriotic scene -- as a "legal tender coin struck by the U.S. Mint." A similar promotion hawks a Space Shuttle Columbia commemorative, a painted U.S. silver dollar, by invoking the "U.S. Mint."

Only the U.S. Mint, established in 1792, is authorized to make the nation's money and, when directed by Congress, to create official U.S. commemorative coins.

Mint officials are also looking into coin collecting supplies that imitate the original Mint envelope, such as "replacement envelopes" for 1955 to 1964 proof coin sets. "Same as the U.S. Mint original," the online ad says.

The new regulation wouldn't be a cure-all, but it would send a message to companies trying to mislead consumers, says Fore, noting that the Mint will solicit public comment before implementing the regulation.

Such scams not only swindle consumers but also discourage coin collecting as a hobby, adds Fore. "When a new collector gets burned, he or she often stops collecting."

And reputable dealers don't want con artists giving their profession a bad name, says Chicago coin dealer Tom DeLorey, a member of the Professional Numismatists Guild since 1973. "Calling people who sell fantasy medals that have no true collector interest and no resale value 'coin dealers' is like calling a hotel ballroom rented for three days to sell art prints an 'art gallery.' "

Taking Stock

Trying to get more organized? Check out the free "Know Your Stuff" home-inventory software you can download from the Insurance Information Institute, a nonprofit industry public-education group.

"Having a home inventory is one of the best ways to maximize your insurance dollars," says institute spokeswoman Jeanne M. Salvatore. "It helps you purchase the correct amount of insurance because you know what you have. And it makes filing a claim to your insurance company easier and faster because you have a document of what you had in your home."

A listing of personal possessions and estimated values can be a chore. This program makes it easier, suggesting typical items room by room "to jog your memory," says Salvatore, and enabling consumers to add digital photographs and videotapes.

What to include? Salvatore says expensive items, such as jewelry, furniture, collectibles and electronics, are obvious. But including ordinary possessions such as CDs and clothing also is important since replacing them would add up. "You're not going to be listing black socks," she says, "but it doesn't hurt to say you've got 10 pairs of shoes."

The inventory can be saved to your hard drive, copied to a disk for safekeeping, or e-mailed to your work address or to a trusted friend "so if your home is destroyed, you've got a copy."

WHERE TO GO

To read the U.S. Mint's proposed regulation online, visit www.usmint.gov/consumer and click on Consumer Awareness, then Hot Items.

To submit comments, write to the Office of Chief Counsel, U.S. Mint, 801 Ninth St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20220 by Feb. 18.

To download the Insurance Information Institute's free "Know Your Stuff" home inventory software, go to www.iii.org and, at the bottom right-hand corner, click on Free Home Inventory.

Got questions? A consumer complaint? A helpful tip? E-mail details to oldenburgd@washpost.comor write Don Oldenburg, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.


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