AG Jennings announces $34.2 million national settlement with Harris Jewelry 

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AG Jennings announces $34.2 million national settlement with Harris Jewelry  — State of Delaware News























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Jewelry chain defrauded thousands of servicemembers and veterans

Attorney General Kathy Jennings, through the Fraud Division’s Consumer Protection Unit and in connection with 17 other states and the FTC, has secured a recovery of $34.2 million for more than 46,000 servicemembers and veterans nationwide who were deceived and defrauded by jewelry retailer Harris Jewelry.

Harris Jewelry used deceptive marketing tactics to lure active-duty servicemembers to their financing program, falsely claiming that investing in this program would improve servicemembers’ credit scores. Instead, servicemembers were tricked into obtaining high-interest loans on overpriced, poor quality jewelry that saddled them with thousands of dollars of debt and worsened their credit. The 18-state agreement requires Harris Jewelry to refund tens of thousands of servicemembers for warranties they were tricked into purchasing, to stop collecting millions of dollars of debt, to correct bad credit scores, and dissolves all of Harris Jewelry’s businesses. This agreement also requires Harris Jewelry to pay $1 million to all 18 states.

“Harris Jewelry’s conduct was unconscionable,” Attorney General Jennings said.  “Instead of the honor, respect, and support owed to all who are serving and have served our country, Harris Jewelry preyed on those populations for a cheap buck.  Today’s agreement serves as a stark reminder to those, like Harris Jewelry, who would do so that neither Delaware nor her sister states and commonwealths will allow such conduct to go without consequence.  It is also a reminder to all of us of the debt we all owe to this country’s servicemembers and veterans.”

Harris Jewelry, headquartered in Hauppauge, New York, operated retail stores near and on military bases around the country. Their business model was designed to primarily target and servicemembers. A multi-state investigation led by New York found that local servicemembers were enticed into retail stores through a marketing scheme, dubbed “Operation Teddy Bear,” in which Harris Jewelry advertised teddy bears in military uniforms with promises of charitable donations. That investigation found that no legal contract was actually signed between Harris Jewelry and the charity it claimed to support. Moreover, consumers were often given varying and conflicting information about the amount donated to the charity. Sometimes they were told all the proceeds would be donated, other times they were told only a portion would be donated.

In addition, Harris Jewelry offered servicemembers predatory lending contracts that were marketed to servicemembers as a way to build or improve their credit scores. The credit advanced to servicemembers through the Harris Program was not based on a consumers’ credit score, potential income, or other legitimate factors that banks consider. Rather, it was based on a servicemember’s branch of service, the amount of time they have remaining on the term of enlistment, and the category of merchandise they purchased. Servicemembers were led to believe that they were investing in the Harris Program and the jewelry they purchased was a gift from Harris Jewelry.

The jewelry itself was significantly overpriced and poor quality. The investigation found that the company dramatically inflated the retail price of its products, generally by multiplying its wholesale cost by six or seven times, and in some cases 10 times the wholesale cost. For example, Harris Jewelry purchased its popular Mother’s Medal of Honor at $77.70 but sold it at $799. The jewelry was not worth the price and consumers often reported stones falling out, chains breaking, and the finish fading.

Harris offered servicemembers protection plans on the jewelry, which they claimed was optional but was added to nearly all eligible transactions without their awareness. The costs of the protection plans ranged from $39.99 to $349.99, depending on the retail price of the item. In some instances, the cost of the protection plan exceeded the wholesale cost Harris paid for the item. Protection plans were added to a consumer’s retail installment contract as a routine practice without disclosure.

With the inflated purchase price, protection plans, taxes, shipping and handling fees, teddy bears, and other fees, servicemembers were charged more than they were initially told. Using the $799 Mother’s Medal of Honor as an example, servicemembers were charged $79.99 for a protection plan, taxes, and other fees, bringing the total principal cost to $974.31. At a 14.99 percent interest rate over a 10-month period, the total amount paid by a servicemember ended up being $1,039.26 for the Mother’s Medal of Honor.

In essence, Harris Jewelry used charity pleas as a marketing tactic to dupe servicemembers into signing high-priced, deceptive in-house financing contracts for vastly overpriced jewelry. The jewelry was poor quality, the prices were highly inflated, the finance contracts had hidden fees, and the payments were directly tied to the military pay days.

According to today’s consent order, Harris Jewelry violated the FTC Act, the Truth in Lending Act, the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, the Military Lending Act, the Holder Rule, and state laws in connection with jewelry sales and financing to members of the military.

Specifically, the states and the FTC alleged that Harris Jewelry had done all of the following:

  • Made false or unsubstantiated claims that financing jewelry purchases through the company would result in higher credit scores: The company told servicemembers that they would achieve a significant improvement in their credit score by entering into a retail installment contract with Harris Jewelry when, in fact, that was not true in many instances.
  • Misrepresented that the protection plan was required to finance purchases: In connection with the sale of jewelry and military-themed gifts, Harris Jewelry offered a protection plan that covered ring and watch sizing, battery replacements, and repairs. In several instances, the company gave the false impression that the protection plan was not optional or was required to finance the purchase, when it was in fact optional.
  • Failed to provide written disclosures and meet authorization requirements for contracts as required by law: Harris Jewelry failed to include written disclosures in its retail installment contracts as required by the Truth in Lending Act and Military Lending Act and meet authorization requirements as required by the Electronic Fund Transfer Act. Its internet and print ads also failed to include the required Truth in Lending disclosure. The company also failed to provide written notice as required by the FTC’s Holder Rule in its contracts and failed to make oral disclosures at the time of sale as required by the Military Lending Act.

Today’s agreement requires Harris Jewelry to stop collecting $21,307,229 in outstanding debt that is held by 13,426 servicemembers and to provide $12,872,493 in refunds to 46,204 servicemembers who paid for protection plans. Harris Jewelry is also required to vacate judgments against 112 consumers totaling $115,335.64 and delete any negative credit entries reported to consumer reporting agencies.

Servicemembers and veterans who entered into a predatory financing loan with Harris Jewelry between January 2014 and July 2022 will be eligible for restitution to the extent they paid for warranties. An independent monitor will be installed to oversee the relief and contact eligible servicemembers and veterans. Eligible servicemembers and veterans will receive an email and a letter in the mail notifying them of this agreement and their eligibility.  Servicemembers will then have to claim their restitution.

The 17 states joining Delaware and the FTC in today’s agreement are California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington.

The matter was handled by DAG Jordan Braunsberg and Paralegal Zuri Ramsey of the Fraud Division’s Consumer Protection Unit.

Note: Harris Jewelry, which is now closed, is not affiliated with the local Delaware retail business Harris Jewelers.

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Jewelry chain defrauded thousands of servicemembers and veterans

Attorney General Kathy Jennings, through the Fraud Division’s Consumer Protection Unit and in connection with 17 other states and the FTC, has secured a recovery of $34.2 million for more than 46,000 servicemembers and veterans nationwide who were deceived and defrauded by jewelry retailer Harris Jewelry.

Harris Jewelry used deceptive marketing tactics to lure active-duty servicemembers to their financing program, falsely claiming that investing in this program would improve servicemembers’ credit scores. Instead, servicemembers were tricked into obtaining high-interest loans on overpriced, poor quality jewelry that saddled them with thousands of dollars of debt and worsened their credit. The 18-state agreement requires Harris Jewelry to refund tens of thousands of servicemembers for warranties they were tricked into purchasing, to stop collecting millions of dollars of debt, to correct bad credit scores, and dissolves all of Harris Jewelry’s businesses. This agreement also requires Harris Jewelry to pay $1 million to all 18 states.

“Harris Jewelry’s conduct was unconscionable,” Attorney General Jennings said.  “Instead of the honor, respect, and support owed to all who are serving and have served our country, Harris Jewelry preyed on those populations for a cheap buck.  Today’s agreement serves as a stark reminder to those, like Harris Jewelry, who would do so that neither Delaware nor her sister states and commonwealths will allow such conduct to go without consequence.  It is also a reminder to all of us of the debt we all owe to this country’s servicemembers and veterans.”

Harris Jewelry, headquartered in Hauppauge, New York, operated retail stores near and on military bases around the country. Their business model was designed to primarily target and servicemembers. A multi-state investigation led by New York found that local servicemembers were enticed into retail stores through a marketing scheme, dubbed “Operation Teddy Bear,” in which Harris Jewelry advertised teddy bears in military uniforms with promises of charitable donations. That investigation found that no legal contract was actually signed between Harris Jewelry and the charity it claimed to support. Moreover, consumers were often given varying and conflicting information about the amount donated to the charity. Sometimes they were told all the proceeds would be donated, other times they were told only a portion would be donated.

In addition, Harris Jewelry offered servicemembers predatory lending contracts that were marketed to servicemembers as a way to build or improve their credit scores. The credit advanced to servicemembers through the Harris Program was not based on a consumers’ credit score, potential income, or other legitimate factors that banks consider. Rather, it was based on a servicemember’s branch of service, the amount of time they have remaining on the term of enlistment, and the category of merchandise they purchased. Servicemembers were led to believe that they were investing in the Harris Program and the jewelry they purchased was a gift from Harris Jewelry.

The jewelry itself was significantly overpriced and poor quality. The investigation found that the company dramatically inflated the retail price of its products, generally by multiplying its wholesale cost by six or seven times, and in some cases 10 times the wholesale cost. For example, Harris Jewelry purchased its popular Mother’s Medal of Honor at $77.70 but sold it at $799. The jewelry was not worth the price and consumers often reported stones falling out, chains breaking, and the finish fading.

Harris offered servicemembers protection plans on the jewelry, which they claimed was optional but was added to nearly all eligible transactions without their awareness. The costs of the protection plans ranged from $39.99 to $349.99, depending on the retail price of the item. In some instances, the cost of the protection plan exceeded the wholesale cost Harris paid for the item. Protection plans were added to a consumer’s retail installment contract as a routine practice without disclosure.

With the inflated purchase price, protection plans, taxes, shipping and handling fees, teddy bears, and other fees, servicemembers were charged more than they were initially told. Using the $799 Mother’s Medal of Honor as an example, servicemembers were charged $79.99 for a protection plan, taxes, and other fees, bringing the total principal cost to $974.31. At a 14.99 percent interest rate over a 10-month period, the total amount paid by a servicemember ended up being $1,039.26 for the Mother’s Medal of Honor.

In essence, Harris Jewelry used charity pleas as a marketing tactic to dupe servicemembers into signing high-priced, deceptive in-house financing contracts for vastly overpriced jewelry. The jewelry was poor quality, the prices were highly inflated, the finance contracts had hidden fees, and the payments were directly tied to the military pay days.

According to today’s consent order, Harris Jewelry violated the FTC Act, the Truth in Lending Act, the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, the Military Lending Act, the Holder Rule, and state laws in connection with jewelry sales and financing to members of the military.

Specifically, the states and the FTC alleged that Harris Jewelry had done all of the following:

  • Made false or unsubstantiated claims that financing jewelry purchases through the company would result in higher credit scores: The company told servicemembers that they would achieve a significant improvement in their credit score by entering into a retail installment contract with Harris Jewelry when, in fact, that was not true in many instances.
  • Misrepresented that the protection plan was required to finance purchases: In connection with the sale of jewelry and military-themed gifts, Harris Jewelry offered a protection plan that covered ring and watch sizing, battery replacements, and repairs. In several instances, the company gave the false impression that the protection plan was not optional or was required to finance the purchase, when it was in fact optional.
  • Failed to provide written disclosures and meet authorization requirements for contracts as required by law: Harris Jewelry failed to include written disclosures in its retail installment contracts as required by the Truth in Lending Act and Military Lending Act and meet authorization requirements as required by the Electronic Fund Transfer Act. Its internet and print ads also failed to include the required Truth in Lending disclosure. The company also failed to provide written notice as required by the FTC’s Holder Rule in its contracts and failed to make oral disclosures at the time of sale as required by the Military Lending Act.

Today’s agreement requires Harris Jewelry to stop collecting $21,307,229 in outstanding debt that is held by 13,426 servicemembers and to provide $12,872,493 in refunds to 46,204 servicemembers who paid for protection plans. Harris Jewelry is also required to vacate judgments against 112 consumers totaling $115,335.64 and delete any negative credit entries reported to consumer reporting agencies.

Servicemembers and veterans who entered into a predatory financing loan with Harris Jewelry between January 2014 and July 2022 will be eligible for restitution to the extent they paid for warranties. An independent monitor will be installed to oversee the relief and contact eligible servicemembers and veterans. Eligible servicemembers and veterans will receive an email and a letter in the mail notifying them of this agreement and their eligibility.  Servicemembers will then have to claim their restitution.

The 17 states joining Delaware and the FTC in today’s agreement are California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington.

The matter was handled by DAG Jordan Braunsberg and Paralegal Zuri Ramsey of the Fraud Division’s Consumer Protection Unit.

Note: Harris Jewelry, which is now closed, is not affiliated with the local Delaware retail business Harris Jewelers.

image_printPrint

Graphic that represents delaware news on a mobile phone

Keep up to date by receiving a daily digest email, around noon, of current news release posts from state agencies on news.delaware.gov.

Here you can subscribe to future news updates.






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