Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Real America: The 'Treasure Hunters Roadshow' and Their Small-Town Newspaper Grift

HUNTING FOR TREASUREOne look at the Treasure Hunters Roadshow operation and it's clear what popular program the operation is exploiting. The Illinois-based traveling con has little in common with PBS' Antiques Roadshow beyond a treasure chest logo and a similar name. Another thing it shares is a popularity based on a decreasingly well-off population's desperate hope that a lifetime of treasuring material things will somehow, miraculously, be monetarily profitable.

A national cultural failure, for sure. But the real tragedy is that this swindle is being underwritten by the very organizations charged with protecting their respective communities from just such chicanery.

According to Treasure Hunters Roadshow, they are a team that travels "300,000+ miles per year, many times re-visiting an area more than once annually. Our fair and honest offers are made based on the current market, Internet and specific collector values. Many times, our representatives will contact specialists in our collectors network while the residents are in front of them to establish value with the seller. We are here to BUY the items at fair and honest prices!"

According to others, Treasures Hunters Roadshow, known also as Ohio Valley Gold and Silver Refinery, is a band of traveling con artists, bamboozling the unsuspecting out of their gold and valuables.

But who to believe? This truth is probably apparent in the employment of exclamation marks in the insistence of one's trustworthiness. In other words, the Treasure Hunters doth insist too much.
roadshow room

The Roadshow is a group of appraisal "experts" that set up shop for several days in communities across America. Generally, the event is hosted in a small hotel conference room, as was the one I attended in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Those looking to sell their antiques and collectibles, coins and gold (especially gold!) take a number and sit around waiting until one of the Treasure Hunter agents is ready to look over what the treasure owners brought in.

In the Grand Forks hotel waiting area, I sat with a handful of hopefuls. A few were alone. All were accompanied by boxes overflowing with yellowed books and toys and cereal boxes and carvings and ceramics. A lamp; a shotgun; a sad collection of ancient detritus largely valuable only to each individual, mostly worthless to others. Juiced on Antiques Roadshow dreams of garbage worth thousands, the room's energy was higher than reality warranted, like a long line of excited suckers waiting to take that Disneyland ride that they would later understand actually sucked eggs. A fake fireplace was on one wall of the room, a flat-panel TV showing Fox news was above that. As if out of an overreaching satire, Fox News repeatedly featured gold commercials.
roadshow gold

When finally a number gets called, the excited customer shuffles into the Roadshow's examination room where an expert gives the goods a look-see and, after a few calls, makes an on-the-spot offer. Take it or leave it. In the case of the cereal boxes and carvings and ceramics and yellowed junk, no offer is forthcoming. The gun, maybe a few bucks. But seriously… you have any gold? Gold would be great. Any kind.

But it is true that some offers are made, and it is the nature of these offers that should raise eyebrows. An undercover investigation in January by Beaumont, Texas' The Examiner found that, despite claiming "top dollar" payments, Roadshow agents consistently offered amounts "nearly a third of the actual value of the items being presented for sale." The Examiner's research found that various Roadshow events in Beaumont, Marshall and Shreveport offered as little as 28% of the open market value of the "treasures" brought in. In one instance, a Roadshow broker offered $640 for a coin package valued at $1,550.

No great surprise then that Treasure Hunters Roadshow is not a friend of the Better Business Bureau-although, until being asked to not do so, the group did use the BBB logo on its website. It did this despite not being BBB-accredited. The Roadshow is also, it seems, not always a fan of "certified" things, such as the scales the group used recently in Chico, California. It was a decision that cost them $1,700 in Agricultural Department fines. God knows how much it may have made them in unbalanced gold weighs. (Gold!)

Then there are the satisfied customers. Before it was removed from the Treasure Hunters Facebook page, "James" had the following review of the Roadshow:

Although they advertise (see Friday's St. Pete Times) to buy antiques, toys, guns, knives, antiques, coins, jewelry, they are nothing more than scrap metal buyers. They are only interested in scrap gold and sterling. The wait – several hours in most cases – is fustrating. You bring in the items they advertise they are buying only to find out they are REALLY only interested in buying scrap metal. I did sell some old coins and sterling, but as scrap with absolutely no other value. Antiques with apprased value, they wern't interested in. Jewelry from the 20's and 30's they were not interested in. If it didn't contain scrap metal value, they simply were not interested. The lobby was full of people with antiques and jewelry, but, sadly, the lobby was also full of disappointment as these people were not interested in those items unless they contained some scrap metal value.

Here's a February 2010 lawsuit filed against the group, and its various aliases, by the WGBH Educational Foundation (PBS) charging the Roadshow gang with knowing trading "on WGBII's famous and hugely successful Antiques Roadshow television program and its ARS Marks and treasure chest logo" and that this use is "designed to deceive and has deceived consumers into believing Defendants are associated with Plaintiff."

Taking advantage of others' ignorance after creating false hope may make you an asshole but it is no crime. To see Treasure Hunters Roadshow as a clique of slimeballs and sharks preying on the weak-and yet ignore the fundamental nature of America's economic superstructure-is naive and short-sighted. Money is not nice nor is it friendly and it never has been.

But as is the case with every good grift, there is an inside man.

What first interested me in the Treasure Hunters Roadshow's stop in North Dakota was an article that ran in the local newspaper, The Grand Forks Herald. A full page (under tiny print marking it as advertising) included, amongst a number of ad-looking ads, a glowing report from a "staff writer" about all the wealth to be had from the Roadshow. The advertorial looks exactly like any other news article; its "advertisement" call-out diluted by the other ads on the page. Aside from straight under the table paid-for and unmarked content, this is as misleading as advertising gets.
grand forks herald gold

Curious as to just how misleading the advertorial was, I ran it by twelve senior citizen acquaintances, asking if they could identify the ads on the page. Of course they could, they said, pointing to the ad-looking ads. Not one noted the "staff report."

In one small community newspaper after another on the Treasure Hunters' tour, these deceptive advertorials can be found-confusing matters, the newspapers also run genuine staff reports about the events.

When the "staff writer" really is a paper's staff writer, the reports are noxious excuses for journalism. Despite The Examiner's report being available to even the laziest Google journalism, reports lauding the Treasure Hunters pour forth. For example, a Savannah Morning News March 7 report "Treasure Hunters Roadshow digs in Savannah" by public safety reporter Arek Sarkissian's was a real meatball, containing lines like "The most sought after merchandise is gold-especially with high market demands" and "It's generating a lot of money right back into the general public… as a matter of fact, in the last six months, Treasure Hunters has paid out $65 million." No mention of robbery-like payments. No mention of questionable business practices. No warning.

Four full-page ads ran in that same paper the four consecutive days before the March 7 article. Each one with the same phony "staff writer" report, next to a separate Hunters advertising section. This is largely typical of the way the papers bend their independent content to satisfy the Treasure Hunters advertisers.

savannah now treasure hunter

Meanwhile, the Savannah Morning News has the gall to claim its mission is "helping build a stronger community." (Ironically, in the paper's "about us" section it makes a plea to its online users to "Demonstrate how you would like others to behave. Every time you post, ask yourself: Am I helping make a better place to live?")

Then there is the case of the canned staff report. I took a random line from the March 26 staff report on the event from California's Hanford Sentinel: "Enright noted an item doesn't have to be old to be valuable – just unusual and in the best possible condition." That same line turns up in a March 31 report on the event in Southern Pines, North Carolina's The Pilot. From that same article in The Pilot, the line "As the dollar gets weaker, gold and silver go up in value. The gold market is through the roof" appears verbatim in a March 31 piece in Alabama's Andalusia Star-News. None of these are marked as advertising. But all of them are communities where "citizens may have a fortune in their homes, but not even realize it."

Not a single one of the publishers of the various newspapers that have run Treasure Hunters advertorials and staff reports responded to requests for comment. Funny, because that mirrors the Treasure Hunters response to my repeated requests for comment. I did get one response from a Grand Forks Herald editor, who said, "I have to say I'm not especially surprised at or shocked by it. As I understand it, ads 'masquerading' as news stories are fairly common practice at daily newspapers."

wall sign

Local newspapers are desperate for advertising dollars. But in a rush to whore themselves for decreasing amounts, they are abandoning their mission and jeopardizing the very populace they enjoy claiming they benefit and serve, all the while whining about being ripped off by those dastardly bloggers who have no sense of responsibility… or ethics.

In the bigger picture, is this any surprise? What is going on with the Treasure Hunters and smalltown papers is just a smaller version of our national woes. Editors and journalists shrug their shoulders. Publishers plead "the market." Our national discourse is our only real treasured heirloom, and the powers that be, mostly corporations, are the Treasure Hunters, willing to give us a couple bucks for the lot of it. And the whole rip-off is facilitated by a foul fourth estate that pleads "economic realities."

Abe Sauer is a huge racist, according to Andrew Breitbart.

36 Comments / Post A Comment

C_Webb (#855)

All that's missing is a picture of the scrap metal pirates' answer to the Keno brothers.

mickeyitaliano (#2,202)

Great article. God knows I love a fake fireplace, especially when the lightbulb under the log makes crackling noises.
This is like a better script from "The Riches".

HiredGoons (#603)

Nothing, I repeat Nothing, is classier over the mantelpiece than a flatscreen TV.

C_Webb (#855)

You want REALLY classy? The WPIX yule log on your flat screen over your fake mantel!

cherrispryte (#444)

You want classy? My grandfather put a 96" flatscreen tv DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF a window in his house that, were it not for the fucking humungous TV in the way, would have a gorgeous view of Peconic Bay.

Screen Name (#2,416)

"[A] popularity based on a decreasingly well-off population's desperate hope that a lifetime of treasuring material things will somehow, miraculously, be monetarily profitable." A good line in a very good piece.

Ronit (#1,557)

Great article. Thanks for this.

Ken Layne (#262)

Thanks Abe … these grifters have been in my small-town-full-of-poor-old-people twice this year. Next time I see the ad, I'll stop by the community center they often rent — community center! — and hand out some printouts of yr piece.

Abe Sauer (#148)

One real tragedy of this is that Internet journalists conglomerated in the blogger cities won't really catch some the "staff writer" ad part of this scam as it's only in print and not online. So with the local papers bought off, groups like THR have nothing to fear from the "sunshine" of blogger "journalists."

mickeyitaliano (#2,202)

my brother's 'community center'rents for like 50 bucks a day…I just can't believe there is no Miss Marple like senior or WTF is Matlock?

Curious12 (#4,616)

I just read this article and im quite confused at the hatred for this company. While getting my economics degree, i learned a lot about business transactions. The way i understand is if a buyer and seller come to an agreement on a price and they make the transaction, each party has benefited from said transaction. If i go to a car dealership and they want too much for their automobile, i SIMPLY say "NO" Why are these people in the wrong??

kneetoe (#1,881)

But did they buy your crap for more than it was worth? Cuz I hear that's what they do.

spanish bombs (#562)

I feel like the target of this article should be whatever schools and parents educated the people that are dumb enough to fall for those. Also, I very much doubt that many people would still fail to spot the gold-buyer advertisements as such after reading the opening 2-3 paragraphs.

Abe Sauer (#148)

The target isn't "many people" though. It is a distinct group of (usually elderly) people. Most people also do not fall for GOP mailers disguised as census forms or Nigerian email scams or claims of Obama being Muslim. As for the parents and educations systems you fault, that is the vicious cycle of smaller towns. People smart enough to go to college and/or get good educations and exposure to the world abandon their communities for lives elsewhere that reward themselves instead of going back and attempting to be a force that "educate the people that are dumb enough to fall for those."

mickeyitaliano (#2,202)

It also comes down to desperation and/or Saddie Rae living next door who persuades a mom of mine/yours into these shindigs. Word of mouth is tantamount in these communities.

This was really really good. Also, I can't believe Abe has 12 senior citizen acquaintances!

Abe Sauer (#148)

My grandma is the OLD facebook.

Slava (#216)

This stuff is always much sadder when poor and/or old people are involved. I don't particularly care when it's some penny-stock scammers advertorializing financial newsletters to skim off the greedy middle class. But when they're taking money off people who, really, have no capacity, or time, to replenish their losses… it's much more gut-punchy.

Why can't New Niceness also exist in the real world and not just the Internet?!?!

garge (#736)

I wonder if they immediately double their offer when confronted with contest, like Cash For Gold. If I had the time for whimsy, I would love to form a pamphleteer circus that just follows them from city to city.

I am going to forward their URL to Ben Stein, as this seems right up his alley.

HiredGoons (#603)

Things like this are why I'm glad my father raised me to be a misanthropic, if altruistic, cynic who just assumes upfront that I'm being screwed somehow.

He's the best person I know.

deepomega (#1,720)

Great piece, awful human beings. Dreck.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Enjoyed this. It made me want to watch Grandma's Boy. Then again, I always want to watch Grandma's Boy.

nadie (#807)

awesome. (the article.)

Curious12 (#4,616)

Dont you think that in a business transaction of any sort the buyer and seller have both done their research into the value of an item. If I were looking for an automobile and they offered me a deal that i did not feel was fair, I would say "NO" Its that easy. If an offer is accepted by a seller of an item, there is no deception.

Niko Papa (#5,745)

thx for the post…
im webdesinger and my web is http://nipastudio.com/
i gona help you tyo make better website

Paul Harris (#5,861)

This week I attended their show in Arkansas. They were very friendly. The offered me $200. on the spot for a rare comic book. The following day I took the comic in to a respected comic book store and the owner offered me $2500. on the spot and said in his book that it was valued at $5,000. Beware, sellers!

Niko Papa (#5,745)

Η φωτογραφια γαμου αποτελει την βασικη ενασχοληση μας εδω και 15 χρονια, αξιοποιωντας ολα τα μεσα μιας φωτογραφησης στουντιο.
Η φωτογραφηση και η βιντεοσκοπηση γαμου που προτεινουμε εχει ενα τελειως διαφορετικο υφος αλλαζοντας τα εως τωρα δεδομενα.

Niko Papa (#5,745)

Φιλοσοφία μας: ο πελάτης με μία μόνο επίσκεψη, να βρεί ότι ψάχνει και πάντα στις καλύτερες τιμές της αγοράς (κερδίζοντας χρόνο και χρήμα),σε όλα τα είδη που έχουν σχέση με τον γάμο και την βάπτιση όπως: φωτογραφια γαμου , Φωτογραφια Βαπτισης, μπομπονιερες βαπτισης & γαμου , βαπτιστικα ρουχα , δωρα κουμπαρου, στεφανα, λαμπαδες, προσκλητηρια γαμου και προσκλητηρια βαπτισης, συνθεσεις απο μπαλονια, κ.λ.π.

Niko Papa (#5,745)

Very informative writing, thank you very much.
I know many people who read your blog and are also very happy.
I am photographer for wedding photography greece i live to Mytiline – Lesvos and i like your website design
Thank you once again and sorry for my english…

Great article and I just wish I had read it before yesterday when I took some of my "collectibles" down to the one they had here. They are a scam and not interested in anything but gold and silver. When I got there, they gave me a number and then I was told the wait was about two hours. Well, when I had been there four hours, I gave my number to someone else and left. I had seen enough to satisfy my curiosity about whether they were legit or a scam. Your article confirms it. They were also very rude at the one they had here in Modesto. From a glimpse I caught of the inner room where they wheel and deal, I caught sight of huge containers of coins and not one collectible item besides that. thanks for the info.

joe stan (#11,072)

went to a TREASURE HUNTERS roadshow near hamilton ontario canadathey pushed all my collectables aside and threw my antique sterling silver bracelet on their scale and gave me an offer of 4 dollarsless than 1/3 of its scrap value never mind that it was antique.heres another scam to watch went to coin counting machine yesterday that was chargings almost 10% on the dollar. well they raised their rate to 12% and the machine wasnt registering some of the coins.

Barry (#11,196)

Great article…until, almost inexplicably, the author calls Sauer a racist. End of credibility for AWL….What a "shoot, ready, aim" ASSUMPTION…Hope I never piss off the Awl and get compared to a racist!

I worked for this company for a short time. When I realized what scams they were doing It made me sick. I quit and vowed to do my best to tell people what a scam this company really is. They LIE AND TELL YOU THAT GOLD ISN'T REALLY GOLD.. THAT ITS JUST GOLD PLATED./..they keep their scales just a smidgen off to cheat you. OH ya and those bowels they use to weigh the stuff in.. well they may look the same..but one is weighted differently and they cheat you with it. Also…they prey on the elderly, and the people who don't know what they really have. They even teach the Greeters to pick out the people who look like good marks. They have no real interest in the collectibles and antiques all they want is the gold and silver. Each person on average on the team makes between $1,200 and $1,600 a week pay depending on how well they can scam people out of their belongings.

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