At the heart of the complaint is the suggestion that Goldline profits not so much by selling pure gold bullion, but by persuading customers who want to capitalize on the rising value of gold to purchase collectable coins. The coins are subject to a significant mark-up in price, and several Goldline customers told ABC News that they found it difficult or impossible to resell those coins without taking a loss.
One of the customers was 63-year old Joe Kismartin of suburban Detroit. He says what he heard on TV about gold and the Goldline company made a lot of sense.
"They got the commercials on TV and the way the economy's going I was figuring well, maybe I'll just do it for a little bit, save it for inflation, you know, in case something happens to the economy, it bottoms out and I've got something to fall back on, gold, rather than money," he said.
But Kismartin says he ended up losing almost half of the $5,000 he spent, because, he says, the Goldline salesman pressured him to buy overpriced gold coins, not the gold bullion he had seen in the commercials.
"I wanted to go bullion, I didn't want coins," he said. "I told the gentleman I don't want coins. He said I got the deal here, the special deal, I got Swiss coins. He more or less talked me into buying the coins."
When Kismartin took the coins to a local coin shop, he was told the $5,000 worth of gold coins he bought from Goldline five months earlier was worth just over $2,900, a loss of $2,100. "You know, I'm living month to month, that's a big loss."
Goldline disputes Kismartin's allegations against the company, saying it sells "a variety of products ranging from the most common bullion coins to exceptionally rare certified coins." Goldline said it looked into each case ABC News reported on last year and found that while both customers had initially complained, the company believed they wound up satisfied. And one of them -- Goldline did not identify which one -- was provided "a number of written disclosures at the time of purchase that went even further than Goldline's ordinary written disclosures," and yet went ahead with the purchase anyway.
In filing the complaint, officials have opened a new front in a long-running and very public dispute over the way Goldline has turned the sale of gold into a massive retail operation that capitalizes on popular conservative figures -- most notably Glenn Beck. The marriage of conservative talk and gold sales appears to make sense -- both have traditionally targeted an audience that is skeptical of the government, concerned about the nation's economic future, and uneasy about inflation and the stability of American currency. Neither Beck nor any of the other celebrity endorsers are accused of any wrongdoing.
The promotional strategy appears to have been beneficial both to Goldline, which boasts $500 million in sales, and to such conservative figures as Beck and former presidential hopefuls Fred Thompson and Mike Huckabee, all of whom have, at various times, coupled their television or radio appearances with Goldline advertisements.
When contacted last year, a spokesman for Beck noted that Goldline has an A plus rating from the Better Business Bureau.