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State Views: Bill would protect consumers from cash-for-gold fraud

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Sen. Tim Cullen
February 18, 2014

Last summer during the Rock County 4-H Fair, Rep. Deb Kolste and I were holding office hours on the fairgrounds when Shaughn and Katherine Bolton of Janesville approached us.

The Boltons told us that a house cleaner they had hired on three separate occasions stole a total of nearly $17,000 worth of jewelry before they noticed the items were missing. The thief was found guilty of theft of movable property and sentenced. While the law enforcement part of this incident has been brought to a favorable conclusion, the Boltons have lost property that cannot be recovered or replaced.

Before her arrest, the house cleaner took the stolen jewelry to a cash-for-gold store. The store sold the Boltons’ jewelry to a refinery, which melted it down. The jewelry was insured, and the Boltons were able to recover the financial loss, but they will never be able to recover the priceless sentimental value attached to the items. For example, the cash-for-gold dealer melted down charm bracelets the Boltons had purchased for their daughters with charms signifying momentous events in their lives.

The best police work in the world cannot recover the stolen items. Employing quick turnarounds, cash-for-gold stores send the jewelry they purchase off to refineries to be melted down long before victims notice the items are missing.

The cash-for-gold stores also pay well below market value for stolen jewelry, something that should raise a red flag. In the Bolton case, jewelry valued at nearly $17,000 was sold for less than $500.

If your television set is stolen, you will likely notice it right away. But you might not notice that your jewelry has been stolen until the next time you want to wear it. Sadly, by then the jewelry is often melted down with no chance of recovery.

Rep. Kolste and I started working on this issue as soon as we heard about it. We have carefully drafted legislation that will require cash-for-gold dealers to hold purchased items for 28 days after filing required online or in-person reports of every transaction.

The bill’s 28-day holding period and reporting requirement, which requires photographs of purchased items, will provide law enforcement officials greater ability to recover stolen items before it’s too late. Both bills, Senate Bill 486 and Assembly Bill 640, have been assigned to legislative committees. Rep. Kolste and I have been appealing to the committee chairs to hold hearings on the bills and move them to the floor for a vote.

Regardless of the outcome of the bills in this session, I am confident that reform legislation to better protect victims of jewelry theft will eventually become law. The bills now before the Legislature create reasonable expectations for cash-for-gold retailers, give law enforcement officials another tool to recover stolen property, and address the loss of priceless jewelry items such as those lost forever by Shaughn and Katherine Bolton.

Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, serves the 15th Senate District, which includes most of Rock County and Whitewater, as well as parts of Jefferson, Green, and Dane counties. Readers can contact him at Room 108 South, state Capitol, P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707-7882; phone 608-266-2253; email Sen.Cullen@legis.Wisconsin.gov.



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