An Ohio company that came under Better Business Bureau scrutiny two years ago for “chronic and flagrant” issues with its newspaper and magazine advertising appears to be at it again – this time marketing common buffalo nickels as valuable and “nearly impossible to find.”
The company, Arthur Middleton Capital Holdings of North Canton, Ohio, has been selling the nickels throughout Missouri and Illinois in recent months using promotions in area newspapers and magazines. The coins are sold through the Arthur Middleton subsidiary World Reserve Monetary Exchange.
“Ads that are specifically designed to stretch the truth are not in the public’s interest,” said Kim States, BBB of Southern Arizona president. “Once again, it appears that Arthur Middleton is willing to play fast and loose with the truth to sell its products.”
World Reserve Monetary Exchange, which also uses the name Universal Syndications Inc., has an “F” rating with the BBB, the lowest possible. The BBB has closed about 260 complaints against the company in the last three years.
Advertisements published in May in the Belleville News-Democrat of Belleville, Ill., and last month in Parade Magazine, a nationally distributed publication that was inserted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, read: “Public gets Vault Bags full of rarely seen U.S. Gov’t minted coins.”
BBB says that several parts of the ads have the capacity to mislead the public. They include:
- A photograph of a 1913 Indian head buffalo nickel used to illustrate the advertisement. The BBB maintains that the 1913-dated nickel that is pictured has more value than and is not typical of the coins contained in the bags that are sold to the public.
- The use of the word “valuable” and other potentially misleading phrases designed to communicate a high value to uninformed buyers. Among the phrases: “Vault Bags full of valuable Indian Head coins . . . It’s like finding buried treasure . . . dealers and collectors can’t be stopped from hoarding all the valuable coins they can get their hands on . . . it makes a real nice nest egg . . . These are the Vault Bags full of valuable Indian Head coins.”
- The use of advertising phrases indicating that the nickels being sold are rare or difficult to find. Among the phrases: “Vault Bags full of rarely seen U.S. Gov’t minted coins . . . rarely seen Indian Head collector coins . . . Coins like these are nearly impossible to find and when they’re gone, they’re gone.”
In addition, the BBB says the return policy for the nickels is in conflict with the World Reserve’s “30-day money-back guarantee of satisfaction” printed on the company’s website. The online guarantee says customers who are not satisfied with a purchase may return it “for a prompt exchange or refund.” However, the plastic seal on the so-called “vault bags” of nickels notes that the coins cannot be returned if the seal is broken and the bags opened. This would seem to indicate that only unopened, uninspected, coin bags could be returned for refunds.
A BBB investigator paid $29 plus $6 shipping to order a single bag of nickels. An inspection showed 18 nickels in various conditions, including nine so worn that no dates were visible. Three St. Louis area coin dealers who inspected the lot gave various estimates on its value.
One dealer said the coins were so common and would be so difficult to sell that he would not make an offer; another dealer said he would pay a dime each for the coins for a total of $1.80. The third dealer offered the most, saying he would pay about $4.50 for the coins, or about 1/6 of what World Reserve charged.
The dealers said they would sell an identical lot of coins for anywhere between $4 and $9, but they said finding a buyer would be difficult. The dealers variously described the bag of World Reserve nickels as “junk,” “garbage,” and “common.” All challenged the ad’s use of the phrase “nearly impossible to find.” None said he would consider the coins “valuable.”
One dealer said the vast majority of buffalo nickels would not see any increase in value for decades. “There is nothing rare about (the nickels),” he said. “The mintage (number of coins minted) is too high.”
The BBB also notes that the type of nickels advertised in the ad are readily available in bulk lots on Internet auction sites and at flea markets nationwide. While the coins are not often seen in pocket change, they are readily available at inexpensive prices, the dealers said.
A World Reserve customer from Kansas City, Kan., said he feels the ads are misleading. He said he purchased three bags of nickels for about $100, but discovered that only three of the 54 coins had legible dates. He estimated the total value of the nickels at “maybe a couple of bucks.” He said World Reserve agreed to refund his money only after he filed a complaint with the BBB.
In response to the BBB, the company said that while it does not believe the advertisements are misleading, it intends to change some of its claims. An Arthur Middleton attorney said the company will replace the phrase “impossible to find” with the phrase “impossible to find in circulation.” She also said the company will remove the reference to “nest egg” from the ads and consider changing the coin pictured in the ad.
While the company says it still will not issue refunds for opened bags, it is in the process of changing how the nickels are shipped. The nickels will be placed in a transparent inner bag closed by a security seal, allowing consumers to see part of the contents before breaking the seal.
She said the company stands by its claim that the coins are “valuable” both because they are government coinage and because they have collector value that exceeds their face value.
The BBB notes that Arthur Middleton companies historically have agreed to change or discontinue ads after receiving challenges. But issues with misleading ads persist, the BBB says.
Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona issued an alert World Reserve in 2010, when a Tucson business reported that they were marketing normal $2 bills as special edition $2 bills in a local newspaper.
The alerts all involved concerns over potentially misleading newspaper and magazine advertising and involved the sale of sheets of $2 bills, armored safes, health pills and portable heaters.
In November 2012, the Canton BBB noted several complaints concerning an offer of 100 U.S. government coins. Some consumers reported that the majority of coins in the offer are pennies and newer coins. The Canton BBB notes that issues with the ads remain unresolved.
BBB offers the following tips when ordering coins and currency through the mail:
- Read all advertising and marketing materials carefully in an effort to understand exactly what you will be receiving. If you have any questions, ask the company directly.
- Be wary of words that indicate that an item is valuable or will increase in value. There are no guarantees regarding the appreciation of coins or other collectibles.
- Make sure you understand any additional fees such as processing or mailing costs.
- Make sure you understand the company’s refund policy if you are not satisfied.
- Compare prices online or with a local coin dealer.
- Pay by credit card whenever possible in case you want to challenge the purchase.