Checks put on Barbados gold rush
(Barbados Nation) Last Monday at a Press conference, Commissioner of Police Darwin Dottin again lamented the growing problems associated with some elements in the “cash for gold” business. He said it was “fuelling a lot of criminal activity” in the island.
He spoke for example of a non-national who had come to Barbados “with very little cash” but had stolen more than $1 million in jewellery from various Bridgetown stores. Fortunately, he was nabbed before he could dispose of his loot to a dealer.
In this week’s Big Interview, SUNDAY SUN Editor Bryan Walker speaks with Scott Goodman, managing director of Barbados Gold Buyers, one of the major players in the business that weekly offers “cash on the spot”, to get the traders’ side of the issue. Goodman, a Barbadian who previously lived in the United States, said he learnt of cash for gold upon returning to Barbados.
How long have you been involved in the cash for gold business, and what made you get into it?
Goodman: We have been operating for almost one and a half years. I remember hearing from various people around Barbados about this cash for gold business, but I realized there was nobody doing it professionally at the time, just people buying and selling through word of mouth and so on.
I realized that there was a need for a professional and legitimate company where people could feel safe selling their jewellery.
Q: How has it been going?
Goodman: Business has been good, but it definitely has had its challenges.
Q: Okay, let’s cut to the chase. Commissioner Dottin has frequently cast blame on the cash for gold business, saying it was fuelling criminal activity and therefore needed better regulation. What is your response to that?
Goodman: I agree 100 per cent with the commissioner; the cash for gold business needs to be regulated. I just want the public to know that there is a lot of underground cash for gold dealers who are operating without any procedures, and obviously they are not the ones advertising in the newspaper.
We don’t want people to think that every time the commissioner mentions cash for gold that he is directing it at us, the legal companies. We work very closely with the Royal Barbados Police Force.
Q: How many “professional” companies are they?
Goodman: I know of four that I can call professional and legitimate.
Q: And the illegal ones?
Goodman: I don’t know the numbers, but we think it is on a big scale. There are a lot of individuals who buy and sell through word of mouth and follow no verification procedures.
Q: What procedures do you have in place to ensure that stolen goods don’t make their way into your business?
Goodman: First of all, when you come to us with jewellery, you must produce your ID, and you have to be able to explain where you got the jewellery from; and we have to believe you. We look out for certain things: men selling women’s jewellery, jewellery with names on it that don’t match the seller’s name, and a few other things that [raise] red flags.
Once we do decide to buy your jewellery, we photograph every piece, along with your ID. We also notify our customers that the Royal Barbados Police Force can view what we have purchased at any time. We make this as a final statement to deter any unscrupulous people from selling us stolen goods.
Q: Unfortunately there has been a spate of robberies, including theft of jewellery. And while you may have had good intentions in pushing cash for gold, don’t you think you may have helped to create a “monster”?
Goodman: Thieves have always gone after jewellery way before the term “cash for gold” was coined. There has always been a market for gold and probably always will be. What you have to realize is that a lot of people are suffering here in Barbados. We see it every day and it is very sad.
Families without light or water for weeks, no food on the table, can’t get work . . . . This is a major source of the problem [and] people are getting desperate. We definitely have not created this monster, but we definitely need to work hard to make sure we don’t contribute to it.
Q: But don’t you think your business and its public promotion have helped to “feed” that “monster”?
Goodman: Again, thieves have always gone after cash and jewellery. This is not something that they have got from the promotions. In bad economic times you would see an increase in criminal activity and more theft. Our promotions are needed so that people know they have a safe and legitimate outlet to sell their jewellery. If we didn’t exist, people would be forced to sell their jewellery to the underground guys.
Remember, the majority of our customers are decent people like you and me, maybe somebody who has lost work or is out of a job who needs cash to pay some bills. The professional cash for gold business is a helping business; we don’t fuel the crime. Those criminals are not our customers.
Q: How long does your verification process take so that you’re sure the stuff isn’t “hot”?
Goodman: The vast majority of our customers are people who contribute to our society in a positive way but have either just hit hard times, or need a bit of cash to fix a vehicle or take a holiday, and so forth. Some just want to get rid of old memories.
Most of the time there is no need to ask more than the one question: “Where did you get this jewellery?” There are times when we have to dig a little deeper.
As an example, Commissioner Dottin talked about the guy who came into Barbados and stole $1 million worth of jewellery. Well, before he was caught he did come to us to try and sell the jewellery. He was questioned by us for 45 minutes before we refused him, because we were not comfortable with his answers.
So the verification process goes on until we are fully comfortable and if we don’t get to that point, we don’t buy.
Q: But what if I come to you as I am now in a tie, or even dressed up in a suit looking “professional”, how would you know that it is my jewellery and not someone else’s?
Goodman: Customers like you are not causing the problem in Barbados. It is the thieves who are snatching chains and breaking into houses, and making people afraid for their lives. It is whoever is buying jewellery and not asking any questions pertaining to the origin of it. It is the people who are intentionally taking stolen gold off the island.
If you came in as you are now and sold me a ring that was stolen after I have questioned you, then in that case you’ve tricked me; shame on you. But tie or no tie, if we don’t like your answers, we won’t buy from you. I have a business that has procedures, but if you are going to ask me if anyone can trick us, of course, as with any other business.
Q: Do you get people of all social strata coming to or calling you to sell their gold?
Goodman: The majority are middle-class Barbadian people with families . . . in their 40s and 50s, and all races.
Q: Do you get a lot of non-nationals trying to sell you gold, from the Caribbean and beyond?
Goodman: We have non-nationals who live here sell us their jewellery, but as far as non-nationals bringing us jewellery from other islands, no, we don’t get that request a lot.
Q: What do you do with the gold you collect?
Goodman: We sell it on the international market.
Q: And the major markets?
Goodman: Definitely the United States and Europe.
Q: So you would consider your business as a foreign exchange earner?
Goodman: It’s a healthy business for the country in terms of foreign exchange and in a lot of other respects.
Q: As there are limits on taking foreign currency out of the country, are there any on moving gold, especially in light of the criminal activity being associated with the business?
Goodman: I don’t think there can be limits, as gold is not a natural resource of Barbados; but you shouldn’t be able to export it unless certain measures have been followed. From what I hear, the Comptroller of Customs is working on protocols for export, which is very important.
Q: What can the authorities do to clamp down on all these underground dealers you say are in existence?
Goodman: Somehow, they have to stop them from illegally leaving the island with the jewellery.
Q: What should Barbadians do to help in the cause?
Goodman: I think people should take pictures of every piece of their jewellery. In the event that your jewellery is stolen, you can provide the police with the photo that they can then circulate to all of the legitimate gold buyers. The public can also call us directly and provide us with a description and/or photo of what was stolen and we will also circulate it to the other gold buyers just in case someone attempts to pass it to one of us.
Also, communities need to come together and form neighbourhood watches. If we look out for our neighbours, this might cut down on home burglaries. Look out for suspicious activity and report your suspicions. We have to preserve the island’s safety.