Criminal scams are not unique to the precious metals industry, as it is but one minor niche of the massive financial markets. However, it is the industry in which I participate. Where possible, I try to help would-be buyers of physical precious metals avoid the crooks.
There are many different ways that unscrupulous dealers may try to take advantage of uninformed buyers, but today I want to focus on the problem with people purchasing and paying for merchandise, then never receiving their goods.
There have been some operations that never delivered promised merchandise right from the beginning. Such crooks tend to be detected soon. But, there are other less obvious traps that customers may fall for.
One warning sign of a dealer to avoid is any business that offers free storage of their customers’ holdings or offering vault storage under the title of the company that sold customers the merchandise. Over the decades, too many companies that have offered this service have gone out of business with their customers left with little or nothing. For your own protection, assume that if you do not have physical custody of your purchases, or you do not have them stored in a vault where the storage account is in your name, then you are at risk of losing your holdings.
One danger is that a company that might have operated on the up and up for many years could get into financial difficulty. There are several examples where one tactic some of these businesses had tried is to delay customer deliveries. This happened with Tulving Company in Orange County, Calif., this spring, where customers may have lost as much as $40 million in undelivered merchandise.
There have been some serious complaints publicized in recent days about another 30-year precious metals seller that is taking an extraordinarily long time for delivery, with at least one instance where a longtime repeat customer is still waiting for shipment of 500 Canada silver Maple Leaves, or a refund of his payment, since late June. Because of the company’s relatively long track record, a certain level of trust is developed that can lull customers into waiting until it is too late.
There are times where particular products are in such strong demand that delays can stretch out much longer than normal. If a buyer checks with several dealers and is told by all of them that a certain product will take four to eight weeks for delivery, that is probably the truth. However, if just about every dealer states that delivery will be immediately, or no more than a week after payment by good funds is received, then the dealer who quotes four to eight weeks delivery on that product is probably one you don’t want to deal with.
When you purchase bullion-priced precious metal coins and bars, the seller should be able to give you a good idea of when shipment is expected. If not, you may want to go to another dealer. If you have purchased something and you have not seen the merchandise within one week after you would have expected to receive it, contact the seller to see if there is any problem.
Actually, good dealers are proactive in contacting customers first if an unexpected delivery problem develops. If you have to repeatedly contact the dealer about delivery problems, the problem may be the company with whom you are dealing.
It can happen that there are innocent glitches in delivery. For instance, there are many companies around the country like mine that have the name of Liberty in their title. Once in a while, by accident, my company has received packages meant for another dealer and other dealers have received packages that wholesalers sold to my firm. Getting the merchandise re-routed may add another week to shipment time. However, this is a rare occurrence. Any dealer who regularly makes such excuses is waving a red flag to their customers.
In summary, for your own protection, take delivery of your precious metals purchases as promptly as is practicable. If you think you are getting the runaround instead of satisfaction, you can check to see if the selling company or its principals may be members of the American Numismatic Association (www.money.org), the Professional Numismatists Guild (www.pngdealers.org), or the Industry Council for Tangible Assets (www.ictaonline.org). If they are, these entities may offer some kind of intervention or mediation on your behalf. You may also consider contacting the Better Business Bureau or the attorney general’s office in the state where the seller is located. The best advice I have if you have a problem is to take action right away, to gain the best possible outcome.
Should you have an interest in learning about other ways that certain dealers try to take advantage of unknowledgeable customers, you can review my Power Point presentation titled “Consumer Protection Tips When Buying And Selling Physical Precious Metals” that I delivered at the Silver Summit in Spokane, Wash., in October 2013. Just send me an email at email@example.com to request the file.
Patrick A. Heller was the American Numismatic Association 2012 Harry Forman Numismatic Dealer of the Year Award winner. He owns Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Mich., and writes “Liberty’s Outlook,” a monthly newsletter on rare coins and precious metals subjects. Past newsletter issues can be viewed at http://www.libertycoinservice.com. Other commentaries are available at Coin Week (http://www.coinweek.com and http://www.coininfo.com). He also writes a bi-monthly column on collectibles for “The Greater Lansing Business Monthly” (http://www.lansingbusinessmonthly.com/articles/department-columns). His radio show “Things You ‘Know’ That Just Aren’t So, And Important News You Need To Know” can be heard at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday and Friday mornings on 1320-AM WILS in Lansing (which streams live and becomes part of the audio and text archives posted at http://www.1320wils.com).