VIRGINIA RUG DEALER CRUSADES AGAINST SALES FRAUD
BOSTON — Emmert Elsea says he has always been an advocate of fighting phony business practices. This may explain his keenness for trying to close down Oriental rug stores advertising false going-out-of-business sales (GOBs).
Mr. Elsea has been in the Oriental rug business for 17 years and owns his own retail store, Xanadu, in Leesburg, Va. Two years ago he launched a one-man effort to help Oriental rug dealers convince authorities to close down GOBs that are hurting business. A former president of Oriental Rug Retailers of America (ORRA), Elsea says the organization's top complaint is fraudulent GOB sales. But ORRA has done little to investigate GOBs, he says.
In two years he has tackled 19 or 20 GOBs in 13 states, and has closed all of them down, he says.
The key to this success, he says, has been getting consumer protection and state agencies to investigate alleged GOBs operating in their area. Many times, he says, agencies are not even aware of a scam. If Elsea hears of an illegal GOB sale, he obtains a copy of the state and local laws on GOB sales. If he suspects a store is violating the law, he contacts the state's consumer affair's office, the Better Business Bureau, and local licensing agencies.
Elsea says agencies tend to ignore complaints from local retailers because it sounds as if they want to close down competition. But since Elsea has no business interest at stake, the agencies usually are willing to investigate. Mostly the GOBs are found to be breaking the law by selling goods that were not in the store before it sought a license for a GOB sale.
To help combat GOBs, Elsea has put together two 150-page manuals: the ``Investigator's Guide,'' for law-enforcement officials and consumer protection agencies, and the ``Combat Manual,'' for Oriental rug retailers. Both manuals contain in-depth information on how GOBs are organized, run, and supplied and how to stop them.
``GOBs have been allowed to exist because the general public doesn't know the [Oriental rug] market and the industry,'' Elsea says. Since GOBs cater to the uneducated consumer, they save money by purchasing low-quality rugs, Elsea says. GOBs cater to consumers who think they can get ``something for nothing.''