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Who’s coining it?

Today’s show is a cautionary tale about accepting what a salesperson tells you, and buying what they’re selling on the spot without taking time to do your own checks first. Wendy Knowler picks up the story...

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London-based business owner Georgine Thorburn and her family spend three weeks in South Africa every summer, based at Umhlanga’s Oyster Box hotel and during her visit last February, she asked the hotel’s concierge where she could buy Krugerrands, and was directed to The Scoin Shop in the nearby Gateway mall.

There she asked to buy three them, but was told they only had two, and then the salesman began a hard sell on what he called a “very rare” minted coin, the 1898 MS62 Kruger Pond - at just R68 000.

She agreed to buy it and paid for all three coins - a total of R108 800 - saying she’d collect them on her return from a week’s safari.

But she changed her mind in the bush and emailed Scoin Gateway to say she no longer wanted that Pond - she’d stick to her original intention of buying only Krugerrands.

It wasn’t to be. Len Sham at the company’s Jo’burg head office said the deal could only be changed by of The Scoin Shop and South African Gold Coin Exchange chairman Alan Demby - after a board meeting.

Thorburn was about to leave the country, so she had no choice but to take that supposedly rare coin with her.

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Back in London she had it valued by Morton & Eden auctioneers of London, which specialises in British and British Commonwealth coins, valued it at between 500 and 600 pounds - about R10 000 at most - and recommended that she insure it for a replacement value of $900 (R14 920).

She has since made it her mission to ask a lot more coin dealers about the value of that Pond, both in London and in South Africa. The average was about R20 000.

Glenn Schoeman, chairman of the SA Association of Numismatic Dealers, told me that while the coin in question was sought after, it was not rare, being “one of the more freely available South African coins”.

“MS 62 is a good grade for a coin of this nature but it is not top of the scale - I’d value it at between R17 000 and R28 000, depending on its lustre and general appearance - I’m afraid the tourist was horribly overcharged.”

Georgine is furious that she was  “ambushed” by the salesman, swayed from her original intention of buying only Krugerrands, and misled about the Pond’s rarity and value.

But Demby sees it differently.

“The thing is that 99% of our clients come into our stores and don't really know what they want and we try and give them a selection of coins to consider,” he said.

On her visit to South Africa earlier this year, Thorburn tried to sell the Pond back to the Scoin Shop, but, she says, Sham told her it was her tough luck that she didn’t do her homework on the value of that coin.

She persisted, saying she was also open to an exchange - the Pond for the three Krugerrands.

When she got nowhere with that, she came to ECR Consumerwatch for help.

Demby told me people shouldn’t expect to buy art, property or coins and flip it shortly afterwards to make what he called “a quick buck”.

“If I was in for a quick buck,” Thorburn countered, "I would know my onions and I certainly wouldn't have paid R68 000 for a coin that is not rare, and I could buy the same coin today, incidentally, on Bid or Buy SA, for R25 950.”

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Demby insists that the price of the coin was market-related, and that his company had paid R45 000 for the coin before putting on its mark-up and selling it to Thorburn for R68 000.

"The retail price of these coins today is between R50 000 and R60 000,” he said.

"You can’t get 1898 coins in that quality so we come down to this whole thing of collecting for the long term, collecting becomes investing. We want our clients to make money but whether you purchase property, shares, coins or even currency, things change - markets go up, markets go down - and yet in the long term, people do do well.”

Having initially refused to take back the Pond, Demby later relented and offered to exchange it for three Kruger Rands, provided Georgine appeared in person at the Scoin’ Shop’s Jo’burg office, when she returns to South Africa in February.

“We don’t deal with third parties because of past frauds and losses,” he said.

Here are the lessons out of this story:

--Never allow a salesman to talk you into buying something you weren’t intending to buy, without giving yourself some time to think about the deal and doing your own research on the price.

--Always find out about a store’s returns policies, in detail, before doing the deal.

--If you buy something as a direct result of an unsolicited hard sell - in other words you did not approach the company representative and enquire about buying the product or service; they suggested it to you - it amounts to direct marketing, which gives you the benefit of a a five business day cooling-off period, during which you can cancel the deal, in writing, for a full refund.

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