Spotting a Fake: Gold

Spotting a Fake: Gold

The most common scam we run across is fake gold. We often hear of individuals hanging out at a gas station or grocery store claiming to be out of money and willing to trade a gold ring or chain for “just a tank of gas” or “$50 for groceries”. The person will say the gold is worth much more than that and show you the visible stamp that says it’s 18k. The victim will give the person some money and leave with their “gold”.

Unfortunately, the piece of jewelry they were given is fake. It is not even gold plated and has no value. We hate to hear of instances like these but they are becoming more and more common. 

These “gold” pieces may look like the ones pictures below. 


So, how can you be sure what you are buying (or trading for) is gold? Well there are a variety of tests available. 

There are a many methods that can be conducted to test for gold; we usually stick to the same three tests. The first test is the easiest to conduct.

The Magnet Test:

The magnet test cannot prove if a material is gold. It can only tell you if a material is NOT gold. Gold is not magnetic and should not be attracted to any magnet. 

To conduct this test, we simply hold a high-power magnet over the unknown material we are testing. If the magnet attracts the material, it is not gold. If the material does not pull towards the piece, further testing must be done to determine if it is truly gold. 

If the material exhibits a slight magnetic pull, we would proceed with further testing as it could be a low-quality piece of gold such as 8K or 9K. It’s important to keep in mind that clasps made from a non-precious metal are commonly found on gold chains or bracelets. 

This chain has a very strong pull to the magnet along the entire necklace. It is not gold. 


The Acid Test:

Once we have determined that the piece is not magnetic we move onto the acid test. This test utilizes two different materials: a black stone (commonly called a touchstone or streak stone) and nitric acid. 

Why perform an acid test on gold? Acid will not alter authentic gold due to it being a noble metal.  When testing a material, we’re looking for any sign of a reaction with the acid. If it does react, the piece is not gold and we can confirm the product is not authentic. 

There are different acids available for various compositions of gold (10K, 14K, 18K and 22K gold). If the piece came in with a visible gold stamp, we’ll test it with the corresponding acid. If there is not a stamp, we will test with all of the acids. 

How do you do the test? Make sure you are in a well-ventilated area; the acid has a strong smell. 

Start by scratching the piece you’re testing onto your touchstone. You want to scratch hard enough to leave a visible mark on the stone and to make sure you have scratched past any possible gold plating.

If you need to test multiple acids because you are unsure of the karat of gold, you’ll have to make scratch marks for each type of acid. 

Once you have your scratch marks, place a small amount of acid (1-2 drops) onto each mark. If the mark is NOT eaten away by that acid (there is no reaction), it is at least that karat of gold. You’ll want to continue testing until you have determined it’s true karat. If the mark disappears or is changed, the piece is not authentic gold. 

It is fairly easy to see whether the item you are testing is affected by the acid. 

The gold scratch is not affected by the acid. This is gold.


The acid dissolved this scratch. This is NOT gold.


The acid test is not always the best way to determine if a piece is completely gold. For example, if you’re testing a very thick piece of plated gold, you may not be able to scratch deep enough into the piece to get past any plating. You can file into the piece but this will damage the piece. For this reason, we have one last test.

The Electronic Gold Test:

This test requires an electronic tester and works by applying an electrical charge to the piece you are testing. Using a conducting medium, the charge is applied and a sensor within the tester measures the level of resistance within the material. The sensor uses this number and compares it to the conductivity signature of specific karats of gold. If it matches any of these signatures, the tester will display the karat of the gold. 

While this test is able to tell you if the piece is authentic gold, there can be some deviation in the karat the tester displays. The piece of gold you are testing may be within 1-2 karats of what the tester reads. 


Pawn Pro extends free gold testing for all guests in our stores. If you have a piece of jewelry, coin or even scrap and want to know if it is truly authentic gold- bring it into us. We can help you identify what it is and tell you what it is worth. 

Don’t fall for the fake gold scams! Always buy your gold from reputable sources that have the proper testing equipment. Check out some of our gold selection here!


Back to blog

Leave a comment