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How Not To Get Ripped Off 
By A Consignment Dealer
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By Kenny Lindsay 
Certified Auctioneer
How family treasures can disappear or go uncompensated for in a dealer shell game

Picture this. Your grandfather's mahogany desk, under which you played as a child many years ago, is now a crowded piece of memory which you can no longer afford to keep. No one in the family wants it, and it can no longer be stored. You put it in the paper for sale, but no takers.

A friend introduces you to an antique dealer, who raves at its condition and espouses assurances that a maximum value could be obtained in the market IF you would consign the piece to their shop.

Sounds too good to be true right? It might be...

The desk is out of your house, and just any time there'll be call that your check from a sale is in the mail. Wow, was that easy.

Wherever there is a valuable rug, there's a rug merchant nearby...

Like any object of value, whether it be furniture, jewelry, or collectibles; there is no completion of consideration until one is compensated by payment, or the item(s) are reclaimed. There in lies the dicey game that some antique dealers will play as to who can outlast who, and reduce a front end pitch to a back door fraud.

How It Happens

First, let's examine the market that an unscrupulous dealer will target. The best targets are those that are elderly, have a variety of valuables (hopefully, that they can't keep up with, minus a concerned relative), and "trusting". The second best opportunity are those under some stress; i.e. a divorce, financial difficulty, moving out of town (that's a plus you'll see later), or just too busy or wealthy to seem to care, and most of all: "trusting".

The key is that valuables are involved for which the dealer sees or expects a market, and to say whatever is needed to gain the confidence (trust) of the owner to consign. This can be achieved on one of two ways.

First, and most dangerous, is to just let the dealer take item(s) on a verbal promise of payment if sold. This is an obvious breach, but surprisingly it does happen. The second, and most used, is a consignment "contract" in which the parties agree and list item(s), and both sign with terms specific as to sale and payment. Done deal. Well not quite.

The Sting

Now is applied the element of time and value of money. We look back at the reason the elderly profile is the most exploited in what can become a shell game nightmare. The person dies. If the dealer knows it, they're not going to tell anybody; simply wait. There may have been items sold along the time before death, but nobody asked and no funds were paid. If, any number of unconcerned relatives or expediting attorneys fail to show up, it's money in the bank. The dealer has won the game.

Now, fold in the remaining elderly, the stressed, the out-of-towners (remember them?). A slightly different shell game is played. The consigned items are simply items offered for sale, and over time and holidays they are sold. And pro-rata proceeds paid to the consignees right? Not necessarily. Remember nobody is checking or asking, so why pay.

The dealer may eventually pay, but when. A year? Two? More? Partially? Never? Depends on who asks. Remember there is an element of trust involved, and whatever is told is usually accepted. So we have the outright lie that nothing has sold yet (when it has), to the more diffused response that "Christmas is coming, let's see what happens", to the "item is in reserve and is being paid for over time, and you'll be paid when it is paid off.", knowing full well it was sold for cash a year ago. All "trusting" responses, to which an elderly person or someone out of town is usually accepting of.

If in fact any of the above circumstances are occurring, there is a high probability that a cumulative monetary benefit is accrued by the dealer at the expense, or outright fraud, against the consignee.

How To Protect Against Being Ripped Off

  • Before consigning valuables CHECK OUT THE DEALER! Call the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints.
  • Ask for references.
  • Do your homework. Make a list of item(s) consigned, and photograph them if of value.
  • Tell your near relatives what you are doing.
  • Have a friend or relative with you when consigning items to witness the acceptance.
  • DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT sign a contract until you understand it, and if there is any doubt, have an attorney review it before you execute.
  • Periodically ask, visit and check on item(s) to assure they are still available for sale. Any question that you are getting the run around without justification, abandon the "trust" issue and demand information, payment, or the return of items immediately.
  • If the last part doesn't produce results, call your attorney or a competent relative for help.
  • Lastly, Any elder relative should not be allowed to enter contracts or release valuables without a near relative assisting PERIOD.


Not all antique dealers are in business to intentionally defraud. Only a small percentage give the industry a black eye. However, all dealers taking antique valuables are entering a fiduciary trust with their consignee clients to act as agreed. To intentional not act as agreed is fraudulent.

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