An increase in jewelry thefts have investigators questioning where it’s ending up.
“I have a sneaking suspicion that most of it is going to the gold-buying businesses,” said Richmond County sheriff’s Sgt. Paul Godden.
The gold-buying industry saw an increase in business around 2008 when the economy hit a downturn and gold prices rose. Although the business is not as strong as it was then, those in the industry said they’re still seeing opportunities.
At least 25 Richmond County businesses are advertising gold-buying. Some are jewelry stores venturing into the market, but authorities say they are also seeing sellers operating out of car dealerships, convenience stores and flea markets.
The problems police across the country see now are similar to the problems they saw when prices for nonferrous metals began to rise.
Suddenly televisions and other high-dollar electronics fell from the thieves’ list, replaced by air conditioners, piping and wiring.
Since then, legislation has cracked down on sellers, making it more difficult to sell items obtained illegally. However, similar steps have not been made for gold.
A Richmond County ordinance mandates gold-buying locations are required during a sale to obtain picture identification, wait three days before sending gold to be melted down and keep a log of purchases for police. Sellers are also required to have a precious metals license.
Police, however, said three days is a very short period to find the stolen goods before they are shipped out of the area.
An Augusta jewelry store recently became one in a list of stores across the Southeast where thieves walked out of the store carrying the most expensive gold chain available. Local officers said it appears gold prices could be driving the crimes.
In all cases, a man dressed in a suit enters a Kay Jewelers store and asks for the $3,000 chain by name or asks for the most expensive chain in the store. Once it’s in his hands, he flees.
“People working in gold-buying businesses should be cognizant of people like that coming in,” Godden said. “If someone brings in a $3,000 chain that’s brand new, that should set off a clue.”
Michael Zibman, the general manager at Windsor Jewelers, said it’s not unusual to see police coming around looking at the purchased gold.
With the holidays approaching, Zibman said he expects the number of gold sellers to increase.
Police also encourage homeowners to document their jewels with identification numbers and photos in case they are stolen.