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SALT LAKE CITY — Just in time for the regifting frenzy or to find some extra cash for Christmas: You can unload your gold jewelry and other metals with more assurance the merchant is compensating you fairly.
The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food has a weights and measures program that recently announced the results of hundreds of inspections at businesses with scales that weigh gold and other precious metals.
Out of 313 inspections at pawn shops and other stores with scales, inspectors found that 83 percent of the scales tested were accurate.
While not perfect, the score is a dramatic improvement over the 2013 accuracy rate of just 38 percent.
"We revisited the hundreds of pawn shops and precious metals buying stores throughout the state this year and found the vast majority were using scales that were accurate and in compliance with national standards,” said Brett Gurney, the department's weights and measures program manager.
"It appears our education efforts are paying off for the business and for the good of the public. Our goal is 100 percent accuracy,” he added.
Travis Waller, the department's director of regulatory services, said the economic downturn coupled with the increase in the price of gold led to a flurry of transactions in which weaknesses in the system were exposed.
Some merchants were using the wrong type of scales, and consumers couldn't be sure compensation was accurate, he added.
"I would like to give people the benefit of the doubt," Waller said, detailing that he didn't believe there was a lot of deliberate cheating going on. "The first year was a year of education for our employees and to educate the merchants on what the standards and expectations were."
When a scale is found to be inaccurate, the department issues the store owner a warning to correct the error within 10 days. Violators risk fines ranging from $500 to $5,000, and deliberate deceit of a customer will be turned over to the Utah Attorney General's Office for review, Waller added.
The agency has these tips for customers to find fair value for their property:
• Look for an inspection certification label on the scale from the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food's Weights and Measures Program, indicating it has been inspected and tested.
• Make sure you can see the scale readings. The scale must register zero before weighing begins. If a container is used to hold the items being weighed, the scale must register zero with the empty container on it.
• Do not allow weighing if the scale has wording that states, "not legal for trade."
• Know whether the scale is weighing in grams, troy ounces or pennyweights.
• Make sure the scale is on a level surface.
The department has detailed information on its website to assist both consumer and merchant at www.ag.utah.gov.