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What you need to know for 07/20/2017

Two men charged with selling phony coins in Colonie

Two men charged with selling phony coins in Colonie

An alleged seller of counterfeit coins apparently went back to the well one too many times.
Two men charged with selling phony coins in Colonie
Sungwook Hong, left, and Yohann Pyon.
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An alleged seller of counterfeit coins apparently went back to the well one too many times.

Police say after the seller duped a local buyer out of $14,000 in exchange for 12 counterfeit gold coins, he posted another ad on the same site for the same counterfeit coins.

This time, though, police were the ones responding to the ad.

Colonie police last week arrested two men they say were involved in the second attempted sale. One of the men, police said, was also involved in a sale a week earlier of coins that turned out to be counterfeit.

Arrested were Sungwook Hong, 33, and Yohann Pyon, 26, both of Queens. They face multiple felonies for allegedly trying to sell fake coins to the undercover investigator. Hong also faces charges related to the earlier sale. Police found no cash on the men. They are believed to have used proceeds from the sales to purchase drugs and gamble at casinos.

Police said the men admitted they were involved in about 10 similar sales of in New York and surrounding states of coins originally from China. Anyone who believes they were a victim of the men is asked to contact their local police department or Colonie police.

Police began investigating May 28, after receiving a complaint from the victim of the first sale.

He told police he answered a Craigslist posting offering American Gold Eagle coins for sale, each supposedly an ounce of solid gold. The victim allegedly met Hong and agreed to purchase 12 of the coins for $14,000, which was less than the current market price for gold.

They were supposed to have the coins tested together, but Hong arrived first, Colonie police spokesman Lt. Robert Winn said. When the victim arrived, Hong was already there. Hong told the victim he’d already had the coins tested at a nearby jeweler. The victim apparently checked and the clerk unwittingly fed into the scheme, confirming Hong had a coin tested and it was real, Winn said. It’s unclear if Hong switched the coin or if a fake coin actually passed the test. The fakes were plated in enough real gold to pass a cursory test, but weren’t solid gold.

The victim tried to pay with a check, but Hong refused the check, so the victim went to a bank, withdrew $14,000 in cash and handed it over.

Afterward, the victim took the coins to a jeweler himself and learned they were all counterfeit.

The coins, Winn said, were almost the exact size and weight as the real thing, meaning only a trained eye could spot them as fake.

As police investigated that report, they learned that the sale posting was again active on the Albany Craigslist site. They also found a similar posting on the Syracuse Craigslist site. So a Colonie police investigator contacted the seller undercover and agreed to purchase 10 coins for $12,000.

The meeting place was the parking lot of Hoffman’s Playland on Loudon Road. At 1:30 on Thursday, Hong arrived with Pyon and met the undercover investigator. After the men showed the coins and agreed to the sale, they were arrested.

Police found a total of 16 counterfeit coins, as well as six vials of the illegal drug ketamine and fake New Jersey driver’s licenses.

As for similar online ads, Winn urged caution when responding or considering purchasing from unknown individuals.

“Any time a transaction starts on the Internet completely anonymously, that’s something that raises red flags,” he said. “In this case, another red flag was that the coins were being offered at a discount to what gold was actually worth.”

Gold at the time was worth about $1,300 per ounce, not to mention the collector value to the real coins.

“Why would you want to sell a coin for less than $1,300 when you could go to a legitimate jeweler and get paid market price?” Winn said.

As for Hong allegedly going back to the same virtual street corner to run the same scam, Winn said there were several possible explanations.

“Whether it be greed or stupidity, they carried on with the scam,” Winn said, “or they believed they weren’t going to get caught.”

Hong and Pyon were arraigned and ordered held at the Albany County Jail. They face counts of first- and second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, third-degree attempted grand larceny and fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, all felonies.

Hong also faces one count each of third-degree grand larceny and first-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument in the previous incident.

The U.S. Secret Service assisted in the investigation.

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