Gold prices are so high now—over $1,500 an ounce—that consumers are cashing in anything they've got that has gold in it, including teeth, bridges, crowns and other dental work.
"I've seen them pop the gold right out of their mouth," says Dave Crume, president of the National Pawnbrokers Association and executive vice president of Wichita, Kansas, pawnbroker A-OK Enterprises.
"It's a little awkward," he admits, "but I've see them take out a tooth." More often they bring in family heirlooms they don't want or jewelry they no longer wear. The gold-selling trend, which started picking up steam two years ago, has become only stronger now, as new ways have arisen for customers to unload their gold. It can be sold via mail, the Internet and Tupperware-like "gold parties," such as Premier Gold Parties, where a group of friends meet to sell their gold in a home setting.
In Texas, a seller can pick up dinner and sell her tiara at the same time: most of the 50 locations of Gold & Silver Buyers, the state's biggest precious metals buyer, are inside or alongside supermarkets. So great is the volume of their business that they do their own smelting—an added efficiency that translates, according to president Larry Gray, into better prices paid to customers. Items sold have included a platinum surgical implant, discovered in the cremated remains of a loved one.
Nationwide, the incentive to sell is strong: The U.S. economy remains soft; unemployment remains high. Even people not in need of extra money, says Crume, are selling now to avoid missing what they perceive may be the market's top.
Prices paid for gold jewelry vary widely. "They're all over the board," says Crume. "One place will pay you $100 for what you've got; another will pay $1,000." But in the past three months, says Crume, prices have begun to converge. "It's true whether you're selling to jewelry store or to a pawnbroker," he says. "The market's getting more competitive--a benefit to the consumer." In the past sellers were getting "maybe half the market price for scrap gold. Now they're getting more like 70 or 80 percent."
No matter to whom you sell, experts say you should be careful. Recent months have seen an uptick in gold-related fraud and an influx to the market of transient dealers whom Crume and others call "rogue buyers." They blow into a town, run big ads offering high prices, and set up shop, say, in a hotel ballroom. After scooping up sellers' jewelry and coins, they disappear, leaving their victims un- or underpaid. Before you sell to anybody, check with the Better Business Bureau to see if there are complaints against your buyer. The BBB reports, for example, that a leading online buyer based in Florida racked up 339 complaints in the last 36 months.
Sell Gold HQ, a web service that reviews and compares online gold buyers, says in a statement: "We find consumers tend not to realize that the gold scrap value they will be offered is often a tiny fraction of the retail price they originally paid. Even when consumers use a legitimate site that buys gold online, it is easy to make a costly mistake by not reading the fine print. For example, some websites offer free shipping to send in gold, but very high shipping rates if the consumer declines the offer and asks for the gold to be returned."