An American firm that buys gold is being probed for fraud after enticing coin collectors across B.C. with promises of easy money.
Kelowna RCMP Const. Kris Clark said a scheme by International Coin Collectors has unravelled after cheques started bouncing for old coins and vintage bills. "Unfortunately, the sellers were left with no gold and no cash," said Clark. "RCMP are investigating."
With precious metals trading at near-record highs, company reps lured collectors with tales of the millions to be made, but the cheques usually bounced.
Pensioner Erna Arnold said she wanted to sell her silver coins at a White Rock show to help make ends meet. "I don't want to go to a home. The people [at the operation] seemed OK. I thought it must be OK, because so many people attended," she said, receiving a $118 cheque for a dozen silver coins.
The company's pitch came via newspaper ads and media interviews. Company spokes-man Dennis Couts spoke about getting rich in Port Alberni before sales commenced at a local hotel. "An ultrarare, 1894 S Barber dime sold for a whopping $1.9 million in 2007," he told the Alberni Valley Times. "We recently paid $300 for a single penny."
He said $250,000 would be spent for vintage bank notes and scrap gold.
At least five B.C. cities were visited on a whirlwind tour: North Vancouver, Mission, Port Alberni, White Rock and Kelowna.
Mark Fernandez, spokesman for the Better Business Bureau in Vancouver, said seniors were targeted. "They do a heavy amount of marketing to get people to come," he said.
Arnold's first cheque bounced but she has been reimbursed. Fernandez said 4,000 people in Canada and the U.S. are waiting to see if their second cheques go through.
More than 100 complaints have been filed with the bureau. Kelowna RCMP said the company's parent organization is THR & Associates of Springfield, Ill. (THR stands for the Treasure Hunt Roadshow.)
"By the time we found out the cheques had bounced, the company was gone," he said. "It hampers prosecution."
Inquiries can be directed to the Canadian Anti Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501 or [email protected] The bureau's website is bbb.org.