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Does Treasure Hunters Roadshow rip off customers?

Jan. 27, 2011 at 7:02 p.m.
Updated Jan. 26, 2011 at 7:27 p.m.


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To submit questions, e-mail watchdog@vicad.com or call Advocate Public Service Editor Gabe Semenza at 361-580-6519. No topic is off-limits.

Evelyn Kasper said she hoped to take home a significant amount of money.

The 69-year-old waited Thursday afternoon during the Treasure Hunters Roadshow in Port Lavaca as a buyer valuated her items: five 1921 Peace Silver Dollars, even more 1960s Kennedy half-dollars and an assortment of other coins.

"I did some research and I think they're all worth about $500," the Port Lavaca resident said, smiling. Her smile didn't last long.

Concerns about the roadshow, and whether it preys on hopeful visitors, surfaced this week among some newspaper readers. Kasper experienced those concerns firsthand.

The roadshow opened on Tuesday and continues through Saturday at the Best Western, 2202 N. state Highway 35 in Port Lavaca.

Newspaper reports outside Port Lavaca - in other Texas and national cities - suggest the show travels to towns valuing antiques at pennies on the dollar. It does so, the reports suggest, after luring customers in with the promise of big sales checks.

In the Victoria Advocate, the roadshow's advertisements called for residents to bring coins, gold, silver, watches, toys and more.

The company's ads say it pays top dollar for your unused or unwanted items.

A check of the company's business history, however, suggests otherwise.

The Treasure Hunters Roadshow, which operates under Illinois-based THR & Associates, has an "F" rating with the national Better Business Bureau - the worst rating available.

THR & Associates operates under seven names, including Ohio Valley Gold & Silver Refinery, Cash For Tools and the Fine Art Collectors Association.

Under all those names, the parent company amassed 15 Better Business Bureau complaints during the past three years. The complaints range from not honoring advertised prices and failing to honor refund policies.

"We often hear these types of companies are advertising in ways that are deceptive," said Lydia Hekman, a bureau spokeswoman. "They have 15 complaints against them, which is significant."

Telephone calls to the Illinois-based company went unreturned. Angela Wright, a roadshow field manager, spoke Thursday from inside the Port Lavaca hotel.

"To say we prey on desperate people who need money is an insult to our customers," Wright said. "Our customers are smart, and very rarely are they desperate."

She agreed, however, the point of the show is to buy items at less than face value so the company can later sell them for a profit.

The show makes offers based on what collectors are willing to pay, company literature notes.

"This is a business, but at the same time we can offer more than other places," Wright said. "I am very proud to work for this company. I love how they do business."

Show managers earn between $75,000 and $125,000 yearly, according to the company's website.

Kasper knew her coins wouldn't earn that amount, but she expressed hopes for a notable check nonetheless.

As she awaited the valuation, Dwight Thorne, a 50-year-old roadshow buyer, conducted online and book research.

When done, he offered Kasper $71.46 - about $430 less than what the Port Lavaca native estimated. Even so, she reluctantly agreed to the offer.

Thorne became irked when a reporter asked Kasper: Why would you agree to such a low offer?

"We spend a lot of money to get these people in this seat - a lot of advertising money," Thorne said.

A non-scientific poll of Victoria coin dealers, coupled with quick online research, shows Kasper could have earned more elsewhere for her collection of coins.

That difference ranges from about $50 on the low end and $300 and greater on the high end.

To avoid selling your possessions for less than face value, or conducting business with an unscrupulous company, the Better Business Bureau urges you to perform research at www.BBB.org.

"Do research ahead of time before making any payments, especially to a company that isn't locally based," Hekman, the business bureau spokeswoman, said. "Customers need to know there is information on this company and other traveling road shows."

Of course, if you're offered less money than what you think you're owed, decline the transaction.

Kasper changed her disposition a few minutes after she received the disheartening offer.

"I'm satisfied with it," she said.

Gabe Semenza is the Public Service Editor for the Advocate. Comment on this story at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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