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Smart Consumer: Nothing glitters like gold -- but only at the right price


Laura Walsh, director of Goldparty.ie, a company with 40 agents around the country

Laura Walsh, director of Goldparty.ie, a company with 40 agents around the country

Laura Walsh, director of Goldparty.ie, a company with 40 agents around the country

Housewives desperate for cash and hard-up husbands have been warned about being fooled into parting with their gold jewellery for a fraction of its worth.

Although it has fallen back in the past few days, gold prices on world markets have hit all-time highs above the $1,500-an-ounce level.

Fears over the global economy have sent investors flocking to safer investments like gold.

This, combined with the fact that gold-buying shops and online operations have mushroomed everywhere, has tempted many to part with their precious metal for cash.

But some of these gold-buying firms, particularly those buying gold in the post, can offer very poor value.

The Consumers' Association has warned people tempted to part with their old jewellery to make sure they do not end up getting ripped off.

And gardai are also investigating whether some businesses buying gold for cash are a front for criminal gangs. There is a fear that gold, being easy to steal and transport, may be stolen to order under the direction of these gangs.

1 So how do I go about selling gold?

If you have gold items that you want to get rid of, or are just cash-strapped, then flogging your precious metal may be a good way to earn a bit of spare money.

One of the most common, and probably the option with the biggest risk of people being ripped off, is to use a postal service offered by a company.

Some companies offer a package with a pre-paid envelope, while others ask that you buy your own envelope and packaging, which they will refund.

What you get for your gold depends on the global market price for the gold on the day they receive it.

They then either send you a cheque or phone you with an offer you can accept or reject.

Another way of selling your yellow metal is to visit a shop or kiosk and do a deal.

Alternatively, you can attend a gold party -- a gathering in someone's house hosted by an agent who will buy the gold.

You turn up with your unwanted gold and the agent weighs it and tells you how much they will pay. You can get paid there and then if you agree.

2 That's fine, but don't they pay very low amounts? What price can I expect?

Gold prices go up and down every day, although over the past few years the price has mostly gone one way -- up.

The prices quoted for the global price of gold are in dollars and refer to 24-carat gold. So if your gold is 9-carat you will need to lower the price.

The quoted price for gold on international markets is in what is known as troy ounces. A troy ounce is the same as 31.1035 grams.

You should note that the price you get for your gold necklace will be the value per gram of the gold in it rather than the retail value.

So, you may have shelled out €200 for the necklace in a jewellers but it may only have €30 worth of gold in it.

Most gold in this country is 9-carat, which is regarded as poor, according to research carried out for Consumer Choice magazine by the Consumers' Association.

Most European countries produce 18-carat gold items.

You then have to reduce the price for pure melted gold by 10% to cover melting costs and other losses that result.

This means that gold could be trading at €1,500, but scrap gold will only be worth €1,350.

3 My gold is 9-carat. How do I value that?

You need to convert the price per ounce (the price per ounce for 24-carat gold is what is meant when the globally traded price of gold is referred to) into a price per gram.

This is because the price per gram is the measure used for scrap gold that is bought and sold at retail level.

Now for the difficult bit. As there are 31.11 grams in an ounce you divide the price per ounce by 31.11.

So, if you have €1,500 worth of gold, then the price per gram is €48.

Ok, so that is the price of a gram of 24-carat gold.

Now look at the hallmark on your gold. If your gold is 9-carat the item will be hallmarked with the figures .375. You multiply the price for 24-carat gold by .375 to get the price of 9-carat gold.

So if the price for a gram is €48, then your 9-carat gold will be €18 per gram.

4How do I avoid getting ripped off?

If you are posting your gold off, be sure to register the letter. Most postal gold buyers say they will insure you for up to €300, but only if you register the package.

An Post has pre-pay registered arrangements with some of the companies, but not all of them.

If you are not happy with the offer, then return the cheque.

A survey carried out by the Consumers Association found offers for 30 grams of 9-carat gold of between €141 and €270.

Concerns that criminal gangs have links to gold-buying operations have prompted Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan to probe how much stolen gold is being sold through shops and kiosks.

The commissioner is checking out if gangs are operating any of these stores as fronts for selling stolen valuables and money laundering.

There is concern that some gold jewellery is being sold to order and then sold to disreputable operators for cash.

Reputable operators will ask you to produce ID and want your address, and the operator will probably have CCTV cameras in shop.

Thefts of jewellery are understood to have surged during the recession.

Get at least three quotes for your gold, and be wary of any company or shop that pays you in cash but does not require your name and address.

5Why has gold soared in value recently?

A store of value since ancient times, gold has got really popular during the global downturn.

The traditional safe haven has soared in value in recent years as investors have been spooked by economic uncertainty.

The deeper the downturn, the more gold shines. The yellow metal has catapulted from a rock-bottom low of around $250 (gold is priced mainly in dollars) an ounce in 1999 to above $1,500 now.

That is an annualised return of around 10% -- an impressive run by any standards.

Irish Independent