State

Only certified scales can find jewelry's weight in gold

Friday's story in The Bee about selling old jewelry to gold buyers stirred lots of interest, including from government officials who warn buyers to beware.

The story detailed how Modesto jewelers and pawnbrokers offered to pay $65 to $155 for a hodgepodge of gold-tone jewelry, at least three pieces of which were 14-carat gold.

That jewelry also was brought to a "gold party" Saturday, where the N. California Gold Exchange franchise offered to buy it for $80.

All the gold buyers weighed the jewelry before making their offers.

That's what caught the attention of the Stanislaus County Department of Weights and Measures. Dan Bernaciak, the county's deputy sealer, said only 22 Stanislaus businesses have certified jewelry scales, and some of the gold buyers in the story are not on that list.

"State law, as well as county ordinance, requires that a scale used for commercial purposes be inspected and sealed on an annual basis," Bernaciak said. If a gold buyer uses a scale "to determine the purchase price, the scale must be inspected and sealed by Weights and Measures."

A year ago, before the gold-buying craze began, only five jewelry scales were registered in Stanislaus County, Bernaciak said. Since then, county inspectors have been tracking down untested scales to bring them into compliance.

Scales tested for accuracy are marked with a seal.

"The seal (which had red writing on a white background in 2009 and blue writing on a white background in 2010) should be on the scale and visible to the customer," said Bernaciak, who advised gold sellers to look for it.

"The gold must be weighed in front of the individual offering to sell it, and the scale display showing the weight must be visible to the seller."

Scales with seals from other counties also are legal in Stanislaus. But if no seal is visible or if the weight cannot be seen, Bernaciak suggested that sellers "walk away and find a purchaser who is following the law."

No matter what scale is used, not just anybody can buy gold jewelry in California. To prevent people from selling stolen jewelry, buyers must have a "secondhand dealers" license from the State Department of Justice, according to Turlock police Capt. Mike Langston.

Langston said gold buyers must "report purchases of secondhand merchandise to their local police department on a daily basis so that the merchandise can be checked against local and state databases of stolen property."

Buyers also must document the name and address of the seller, verify the name by checking government- issued photo identification and take a legible fingerprint. State law requires buyers to turn in a "reasonably accurate description" of the gold jewelry they bought so stolen items can be spotted.

Turlock police invited secondhand jewelry buyers to meet with them to discuss the laws.

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at jsbranti@modbee.com or 578-2196.

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