The first part is that it took a lot of pressure from a local businessman and the attention of the city manager, apparently, to persuade the city police to do that good work. In recent months itinerant gold buyers have come to Oak Ridge several times. Each time local buyers have asked the police to check on their activities. Each time the response has been dismissive. It was clear to the local dealers that the outside buyers were operating illegally. The police had several excuses for not being “able “ to enforce the law.
In the fall of 2009, District Attorney Dave Clark sent a letter to all the local jewelers, coin dealers, metal dealers, and pawn shops summoning the owners to a meeting at the county seat. He handed out written copies and explained the new state law on the buying of precious metals. The records to be kept are to be detailed and specific. Scales must be state certified. Names and addresses from IDs and descriptions of property bought must be recorded. Lists of all buys must be delivered to the local police by noon the day following the purchase. Significantly, the purchases must be kept securely at the location where purchased for 30 days, accessible to police for comparison to materials reported stolen. Representatives from several local law agencies were at this meeting, including our own Capt. Uher.
The law is direct, simple to grasp, laborious to follow. It is an attempt by the legislature to aid the police in recovering stolen goods. When used promptly and attentively, it could both return stolen goods to the victims and put the thieves in jail. Since its inception, local buyers of scrap metal and surplussed jewelry and household goods have worked to comply. Some local jewelers chose to no longer buy used jewelry. The cost of paperwork and the time one’s money was then tied up made the profit insufficient to justify the effort.
Meanwhile, the police told some buyers not to bother bringing their lists in to the city. The officers would come to the buyers periodically to look at the records. Those who know how fencing works realize that delay examining the sales means the chances of catching thieves go steadily down.
Then come the here-today, gone-tomorrow dealers. No license is required because they are not selling so there is no tax involved. (Let’s skip the part where sellers are supposed to submit uncollected sales taxes to the state.) These buyers take out full page ads in local papers. Come Now! Best Prices! Only 3 Days! They set up in local hotels. Despite the requirement in law, they may or may not notify the local police that they will be here and how long they will stay.
The police, despite the urging of local businesses, are unwilling to require that the buyers show them up front what provision has been made for securing the goods for 30 days. Local buyers point out to the police that there is no safe in the hotel and no guarantee that the buyers will be around to make the goods available. No action. In some cases, it is observed that the buyers do not deliver any lists to the police. When locals suggest this to the police the response is, “Go away. You are meddling in police business.” And at the end of their allotted stay, the itinerant buyers pack up and leave town taking their purchases with them. So the law meant for citizens’ benefit and burdensome to law-abiding local business people becomes useless. That’s one.
The second part is sadder. The itinerant buyers play upon the ignorance of customers in order to pay seriously less than market price for gold and silver. They are then gone and not answerable. The flashy ads lure people to dig out broken or seldom-worn jewelry with the intimation of “cash in your attic” hidden wealth. Then the buyers offer 10 to 30% of what local buyers would pay. The customers may be disappointed but, having decided to sell, are reluctant to take their items back home.
How do I know this? Local buyers have tested the itinerants time and time again. This latest group, whose leader was finally arrested, offered $6 for an earring for which a local buyer had paid a fair $18. On a heavy gold ring for which another buyer had paid over $500, the itinerants offered $50. This isn’t illegal. Caveat emptor. This is merely greedy and morally reprehensible.
So here, emptor, is your caveat. If you intend to sell jewelry or Grandma’s silver forks, go to your local dealers who care about their reputations. Go to more than one for comparison. Check the current price of gold or silver or collectible coins on the Net or at the library. Know approximately what your materials weigh and what percentage of sterling or 10-carat is the precious metal. Learn the difference between grams and pennyweights. Don’t be a victim.
Perhaps it is time to consider a variation on the Green River Law for Oak Ridge. We might, by ordinance, require all peddlers, itinerant service providers (e.g., driveway pavers and roofers,) and buyers of goods from the general public to have a local business license. Getting the license could require a background check and proof of permanent address. Share your opinion or ideas on this with your local city manager or council person.