The Need for Vigilance When Dealing By Post

A contract

A contract is not formed until both sides agree to the terms

Anyone who has the misfortune of seeing daytime television in the UK cannot have failed to notice the glut of “sell your gold!” adverts that plague our airwaves.  The fact that there are now so many of these companies should be warning enough that their customers are not getting a fair deal but now the Office of Fair Trading is investigating, the sheer size of the problem will no doubt soon come to light.

These companies, and others like them in various fields, need to be handled carefully if at all.  They raise the issue of the average British person’s usual lack of knowledge of how the law works and what legal protections there are for dealing at arm’s length.

The Three Stages of Contractual Negotiations

The first thing to bear in mind is the difference between an agreement, an offer and an invitation to treat, because these three things not only form the basis for a contract but are also treated very differently in law.

Contractual negotiations usually begin with an invitation to treat.  Put simply, this is a statement that you are open to negotiations on a certain deal and others are invited to make you an offer.  In the case of one of these gold-buying companies, the invitation to treat would come in two forms: the company advertising its services, and you sending them your gold.

Note that by sending them your gold, you are saying you are interested in selling it if the price is right.  It is important to remember that not only have you yet to state outright that you will sell your gold but you have certainly not agreed on a price for it.  One of the reasons for the OFT’s investigation of these companies is that some companies are apparently trying to make declining their pitiful offers very difficult.

At this stage of the proceedings, you have the right to reject their offers and get your gold back, no questions asked.

The Offer

The offer is when one side states their terms for the deal, and the other side gets to choose whether or not to accept them.  In terms of these gold-buying companies, the offer comes not when the customer sends the gold to the company, but when the company states how much they are willing to pay for the gold that has already been sent.

An offer can be accepted or rejected at any time, unless an agreement has already been reached or the offer has been superseded by another offer (whether better or worse).  Rejecting an offer need not end negotiations and both parties are free to extend further offers to one-another, but once rejected the same offer cannot subsequently be accepted unless it is re-submitted.

At this stage, you still have the right to reject the company’s offer and get your gold back.

When is an Agreement Reached?
An agreement is reached only when both sides accept the terms and agree to be bound by them.  It is as simple as that.  Once an agreement is reached however, it cannot be ended without the consent of both parties.

What If The Company Refuses to Return My Gold?

It is clear from the news reports surrounding the OFT’s investigation that some companies are “not honouring” the customer’s right to refuse their meagre offer (which can be as low as 6% of the true value of the gold) and get their gold back.  Recalling that until an agreement is reached, the customer has the right to refuse the offer to buy, it is clear that the customer still owns the gold until the offer is accepted.

It should therefore be clear that if the customer owns the gold and the company refuses to return it, the company has stolen it.  Their refusal to honour your right to have your property back is therefore a criminal matter.  Discuss it with the police if this happens to you.

In summary, it is clear that vigilance is always necessary when making a transaction; be it to purchase something face to face or at a distance through the post or the Internet.  Get as much information from the other party as possible before handing over your money or property and in the case of selling gold, always look for a better deal than these companies are offering.  After all, if they can make a huge profit from your gold, so can you by cutting out the middle man.

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