Some Webster Countians are being duped by travelers selling high-priced jewelry that isn't what the seller claims it is.
This is according to Randy Clair, a local jeweler who has had a number of clients come in with similar stories of buying gold from people who were passing through, claimed to have a need (such as for gas money) and swindled buyers with fake goods.
It's a magic beans kind of scenario. Only there is no beanstalk, no giant and, most significantly, no golden egg.
"They're getting local people to fill their tank, and they’re offering an 18 karat sold gold chain," Clair said. "It ends up that it's brass. It's a scam."
It is something Clair has heard about in jewelry circles, and Webster County isn’t the only place where this is happening.
"They're working the Midwest really hard right now," he said.
In a typical scenario, a seller might approach a potential buyer at a gas station. The seller presents himself or herself as visitor to this country, and one who has run out of gas money and is in desperate need of help. One recent seller was driving a GMC Denali and claimed to the buyer that he was a prince fleeing from some sort of oppression in his home in the Middle East.
“I just had a guy that came in here and he bought five pieces off them," Clair said. The buyer paid quite a bit of money, Clair said — but the pieces were practically worthless.
Clair said that the people running this scam are playing on Midwestern generosity.
"I can tell them if it's real and what it’s worth on the scrap market," Clair said. But he noted that anyone can tell the difference between gold and brass rather simply. "Most of this stuff you can rub it with your fingers until it gets warm and then smell it. Brass has a distinctive smell. Gold has no smell — no scent whatsoever."
Clair feels for the customers who are fooled in their effort to help people they believe are stranded travelers.
"These people are just playing on their sympathies," he said. "They're trying to scam them, and they're getting it done. I hate to see anyone locally get scammed. I hate to see anyone get scammed."
Clair said that a customer brought in two bracelets, two necklaces and a Rolex watch for his assessment. All were fake. Of the Rolex, Clair said, "If it had been real, it would have been worth $20,000." The real value? About $40 as a working timepiece, Clair said.
Clair's ultimate advice amounted to caveat emptor — Latin for "Let the buyer beware.” Scammers are going from area to area, he said. “Right now, we seem to be getting hit."
That will likely wane, especially with media reporting on the phenomenon. "It doesn’t take long for word to get around," Clair said.
Clair suggested that customers make jewelry purchases from professionals to stay on the safe side. "Don't buy jewelry at the gas station," he said.