Cash4Gold didn't pay me, what do I do?

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Q. Last August, I sent a bracelet and a diamond from a ring to Cash4Gold. They sent me $50 for the gold bracelet, but said they never received the heart-shaped diamond. They asked that I produce a receipt from Kay Jeweler's and said they'd reimburse me the amount. I was able to get the receipt, which was for $990, and fax it to them. They then said that after reviewing their cameras, they found the diamond on the floor. I asked that they send it back to me, but they never did. After many phone calls - 30 or 40 - they wouldn't help me at all. I then put in a complaint to the Better Business Bureau and now they won't talk to me. I'd really like to get my diamond back. Thanks for anything you can do.
Tim Lowe,
Bowie, MD

A. I called Cash4Gold and they launched an investigation into your case. They declined to tell me what happened to your diamond, but a package is currently on its way to you containing the items that you sold to the company, as well as a check for $1,000 to replace the retail purchase price of your diamond.

And now, a warning for the rest of you. This is not the best way to sell your gold jewelry – in fact, U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) recently launched an investigation into this company. Cash4Gold tells me that they operate out of a high-security facility, complete with armed guards, cameras, metal detectors and full-body scanners, but that's not my issue. My problem is that you could very likely get more for your gold by going elsewhere – Weiner's office found that Cash4Gold paid as little as 11% to 29% of the market price of the jewelry sent to them. Cash4Gold says they pay between 20% and 80% of the melt value for items, depending on their quality. Either way, I think you can do better.

How? A spokesperson from Weiner's office says to start by finding out the current market value of gold. Then, if you have junk pieces of gold – small chains, bracelets, and other pieces that will only sell for the melt-down value, usually the case if they're not designer or very unique – I suggest taking them, in person, to someone who buys jewelry. You should be able to find a few jewelers near you, just by looking in the phone book. Take your pieces to three different places, and ask what they'll buy them for. If you're satisfied, take the best offer (don't be afraid to haggle a little).

If you have more expensive pieces, like those that include diamonds, or are intricate, one of a kind items, or carry the signature of a well-known designer, you should get the piece appraised. You're looking for the marketable cash value, not the insurance value – a big difference, because an appraiser for insurance purposes will give you the retail replacement value, which is what you could buy either the same or a similar piece for in a retail store. The marketable cash value is what you could sell a piece for on the private secondary market – to a broker, a private buyer, or at auction. Most appraisers will be able to give you both values; to find one, go through the American Society of Appraisers.

Once you have that, then you can take your piece around to a few jewelers in your area and compare their offers to your appraisal. Other options include selling on eBay -- which works best if you have a recognizable, designer piece -- or selling at an auction.

One final piece of advice: If you've already sent an item in to Cash4Gold or another mail-in gold-buying service, and you run into the same trouble Tim did, be persistent. Cash4Gold says that the best thing to do is call customer service, explain your problem, and if the representative can't help you immediately, ask to speak to an escalations manager, who will make sure the situation is handled properly. And always, always save the shipping tracking number and insure the item up to its full value (Cash4Gold says they automatically insure USPS packages up to $100 and UPS packages up to $500; anything beyond that is your responsibility). Weiner's office also says you should be aware of the return policy, because many companies melt down the items within 10-14 days of receiving them. Make sure there's a window to change your mind if you don't like the offer you receive.
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