People who claim to be in need are selling what they say is real gold jewelry, when in fact, it's just brass. The buyers are finding out too late when they try to resell the item at a pawnshop, and those stores say they're seeing more and more people who have been scammed this way.
"There's been a lot coming into our store in Fresno, a lot coming into our store downtown (Fresno), a lot coming in here in the last month or so -- so it's hot and heavy around here," said Visalia Jewelry and Loan Manager Richard Dahlgren.
The scam might play out like this: You're at a gas station or a grocery store parking lot, and you're approached by someone who needs help. Maybe they say their child is hungry, maybe they need gas to get home. It sounds familiar, but in this case, they don't ask for money flat out. Instead, they offer to sell you a piece of gold jewelry for a pretty good price that you may be able to make a profit on.
"And the next thing you know, you're giving them some money and you're showing up here and it's a piece of brass," Dahlgren said.
Dahlgren is used to seeing scams. Usually, someone is trying to rip them off directly. But this ploy is different because the scammers are doing their dirty work with the public, who may not be able to distinguish between real gold and brass.
"When you shine up brass, polish it, it looks really shiny and looks like gold and that's how they trick you," he said. "But as it sits for a while, it starts to tone and has this look to it."
Dahlgren can also perform an acid test (brass will turn green). Or you can even do a simple smell test.
Brass has a chemical smell, while gold has no odor.
If the jewelry is marked 18 karat, that could just be part of the trick too.
"Some people have told us they've paid anywhere from $50 for an item all the way up to $500," Dahlgren said.
Dahlgren says some people are completely surprised. Others may have already had a feeling that they'd been taken.
He says if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.