WASHINGTON, Oct. 10 (UPI) -- Alternative "Liberty Dollar" coins being circulated have prompted the U.S. Mint to remind users they can lose their liberty for five years for using them.
The silver and gold coins are produced at the private Idaho mint of the National Organization for the Repeal of the Federal Reserve Act and the Internal Revenue Code, The Washington Post reports.
They first appeared in 1998 as the brainchild of NORFED co-founder and "monetary architect" Bernard von NotHaus, who claims on the group's Web site the coins are a hedge against inflation.
The group claims to have more than $20 million in Liberty coins and notes in circulation, which is a bane to U.S. Mint officials.
"Merchants and banks are confronted by confused customers demanding they accept Liberty Dollars. These are not legal coin," mint spokeswoman Becky Bailey told the Post, adding users could face a 5-year prison sentence.
In response to a public warning issued by the Mint, NORFED responded on its Web site, saying: "Here it is in plain sight ... the Liberty Dollar is not a coin, not legal tender, and backed with inflation proof gold and silver!"