Dozens of jewelers, pawnshops, and other cash-for-gold locations in New Jersey municipalities violated state laws, potentially cheating customers, the state Attorney General's Office said.
The most common violations included using unregulated scales, not posting precious-metal prices in prominent places, and not keeping proper receipts, according to a news release from the Attorney General's Office.
An October crackdown in the state's urban areas led the office's Division of Consumer Affairs to file municipal court summonses accusing 71 stores of 9,967 civil violations. The penalty for each violation is $500 to $1,000. Among the accused are eight stores in Camden, which have been accused of 711 violations.
"We focused mainly on urban centers as part of our focus on protecting the rights of all New Jerseyans in all walks of life and in every region of our state," Steve C. Lee, the acting director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, said in an e-mail.
A similar law enforcement campaign took place earlier this year, focusing on suburban areas in Northern and Central New Jersey.
"We will follow up on this chapter of our cash-for-gold initiative by bringing other types of consumer protection actions in cities like Camden," he wrote.
The urban-area crackdown targeted stores in Camden, Irvington, Newark, Paterson, Trenton, and Teaneck. Officers from the New Jersey State Office of Weights and Measures - a branch of the Division of Consumer Affairs - worked with local law enforcement agencies to conduct undercover operations, where they posed as consumers looking to sell jewelry. They also made unannounced inspections.
Under state law, stores that buy jewelry and precious metals are required to use regulated scales that are tested annually for accuracy and consistency. Stores also are required to post their prices for precious metals in a prominent location.
"Many people are not seeking to trade in their family heirlooms or valuable jewelry for cash, unless they are in real financial need - often to pay the bills or, at this time of year, even to buy holiday gifts for their children," Lee said in his e-mail. "The law entitles those consumers to honesty and transparency."
To prevent the fencing of stolen jewelry, stores are also required to keep receipts with specific information, including the seller's name, address, and signature; those receipts are to be kept for at least five years. The metals are to be kept in their original form - a bracelet can't be melted down, for example - for at least 10 business days after being reported to police.
"Property crimes are often violent and often leave a deep and lasting emotional impact on their victims," Lee wrote. "By requiring businesses to comply with these laws, we are ensuring these stores maintain an important resource for police and for the benefit of crime victims."
In Camden, the number of violations ranged from one, at F&C Golden Gate Jewelers at 1498 Mount Ephraim Ave., to 363, at F.H. Gold Buyers of Philadelphia, 2406 Federal St. At each of those stores, officers confiscated a scale, the Attorney General's Office said.
Anyone who suspects a business has cheated him or her or is in violation of state law can file a complaint with the Division of Consumer Affairs online at njconsumeraffairs.gov/comp.htm or by calling 1-800-242-5846.
"Your best protection is to know your rights," Lee wrote. "If the store does not clearly display the prices it offers for precious metals, refuses to weigh them in open sight, or uses a scale that does not bear a blue Weights and Measures certification seal, consider taking your business elsewhere."