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Chasing those ElusiveTungsten-filled Gold Bars
(March 9, 2010) Everybody loves a good fraud story, and rumors of “gold bars actually filled with tungsten” have spread like a virus over over the past few months. As we've said here before, there's a lot of information on the Internet - and some of it's actually true.
Data-miners (data prospectors?) could have a field day tracking this story down - tracing back to find the the original sources, calculating the speed of the rumor-spread, and then observing the various mutations that this story sprouted over the past few months.

All these stories are based on one scientific fact: tungsten is the sole element that has the same specific gravity (19.3) as gold. Thus, a gold-covered fake gold bar, in order to be absolutely the same volume and weight as a pure gold bar, has to contain either the very inexpensive tungsten or some alloy of platinum. Since platinum is even more pricey than gold, than it follows that fake gold bars which can pass a specific gravity test will of course be filled with tungsten. Okay, so far, so good. As a matter of fact, you can see a rather scientific discussion of the process here:

Combine that with another true fact: the International Monetary Fund over the past year or so has sold some of its gold holdings. So one fable that has morphed into existence, is that the IMF is selling gold bars that contain tungsten.

Or that China bought some gold bars, which turned out to be filled with tungsten. Or you can believe the tale that gold bars from Ethiopia were put on the market, and later found to contain tungsten (actually, it was steel in the centers, the BBC reported, but let’s not get into true stories here). Or, our favorite fable: a gold bar was sawed in half, revealing tungsten, and its source was traced to Fort Knox.

Later versions of this story swelled to include: all the IMF gold is actually tungsten-filled; most European central banks hold gold bars which contain tungsten; and, of course, all the gold in Fort Knox, which has not been audited in 30+ years, are just phony ingots with tungsten centers.

Many of our readers and clients have asked for our take on the gold-bar-filled-with-tungsten possibilities. But we have so far found it impossible to form an opinion about something that probably never happened, and have dismissed all such talk as rumor.

However, the Economist of London, in its March 6-12th edition article “Knock-offs Catch On (The spread of counterfeiting)” dared to print the following:

“A German bank has discovered an ersatz gold ingot made of tungsten among its reserves, according to a German television station investigating persistent rumors that many of the world’s financial institutions have been similarly hoodwinked."

Unfortunately, the normally-reliable Economist did not name the German TV station. And, if German TV news is as reliable as our domestic TV news, it may not mean anything anyway. But for those who think this tungsten-bar thing is possibly verifiable, here's a promising lead for some further detective work.

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