The dodgy world of commemorative coins

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director, Northeast Contact
Posted Jan. 27, 2013, at 2:10 p.m.

Until recently, the big flap in the commemorative coin world involved the newest royal couple in Great Britain. The Canadian wedding coin, it seems, bore better portraits of William and Kate than the British version that marked their engagement.

Then, along came the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, making all kinds of allegations about a coin issued to mark the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Last week, National Collector’s Mint Inc., or NCM, agreed to a $750,000 settlement of FTC charges that it deceived buyers, charged them for things they didn’t order and failed to mark imitation items “COPY,” as the federal Hobby Protection Act requires.

NCM had claimed the 9/11 coins costing $29.95 were exclusively authorized. Nope. They were imitations and were not marked as such. The U.S. Mint issued an alert telling consumers that it would be issuing the only official coin, whose proceeds would benefit construction and maintenance of the 9/11 memorial.

When selling the coins by phone, NCM’s automated phone system made callers consider other merchandise with no bypass option. The company provided no breakdown of costs or items ordered, and customers often received products they had indicated they didn’t want. The FTC’s news release said of NCM: “Their lengthy and confusing ordering system resulted in many consumers receiving products they did not order.”

The FTC says the company also made returns difficult.

A report on CNN in January 2011 suggested NCM was “profiting off the horror of 9/11” by minting the coins. A company statement in the CNN report said, “Our advertising for our 10th anniversary Sept. 11th commemorative is not deceptive and is clearly presented.”

In the settlement, NCM says it will not misrepresent material fact about products or services, will clearly disclose costs and fees before customers pay, and will play fair on return policies. The settlement also forbids violating the Telemarketing Sales Rule, the Unordered Merchandise Statute and the Hobby Protection Act.

The NCM website states the company is not affiliated with, or licensed or endorsed by, the federal government. It also says “all tributes to original coins contain the ‘copy’ designation as mandated by federal law.”

A lawyer for the firm says the whole matter came to a head because the U.S. Mint does not like competition.

The New York State Supreme Court found in 2004 that NCM had waged a deceptive and misleading ad campaign in marketing the Freedom Tower Silver Dollar (it was a “dollar” only in the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands). The New York Daily News reported the company paid over $2 million in refunds and cancellations and $369,000 in penalties over that coin.

The complaint and consent order were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The proposed order still needs court approval.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/01/27/business/the-dodgy-world-of-commemorative-coins/ printed on December 25, 2014