Harris Jewelry, the 65-year-old chain whose former fleet of two dozen stores once raked in $30 million a year servicing members of the military, will dissolve its businesses following a $34.2 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and 18 state attorneys general.
The company—which sometimes did business as Harris Originals—closed all its brick-and-mortar stores in 2021, but its website says it is still servicing customers via its website and phone.
The proposed settlement requires Harris Jewelry to:
– Stop collecting $21.3 million in outstanding debt that is held by 13,426 service members.
– Provide $12.9 million in refunds to the service members who paid for its lifetime protection plans.
– Vacate judgments against 112 consumers totaling $115,335.64 and delete any negative credit entries reported to consumer reporting agencies.
– “Dissolve all its businesses” after fulfilling terms of the agreement.
– Pay $1 million to all 18 states where charges were brought.
The company said in a statement: “The settlement, in which Harris Jewelry neither admitted nor denied the allegations, resolves these matters in the best interest of all its stakeholders. With a proud 60-plus-year history serving active-duty military personnel, retirees, Reservists, National Guard, and their families, Harris Jewelry’s stores—all of which closed over a year ago during the Covid-19 pandemic—will not reopen.”
The original complaint, filed by the FTC and 18 state attorneys general (AG), accused of Harris Jewelry of:
– Advertising teddy bears in military uniforms with promises of charitable donations. But an investigation found that no legal contract was signed between Harris Jewelry and the now-closed charity, Operation Troop Aid.
Moreover, consumers were often given varying and conflicting information about how much was donated—sometimes they were told all the proceeds would be donated, and other times they were told only a portion would be donated, the AG’s office said.
– Offering what were called “predatory lending contracts” that were marketed in a way to build or improve service members’ credit scores—but in many instances, did not.
– Selling what the AG’s office dubbed “significantly overpriced and poor quality” jewelry.
“[An] 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,” its statement said. “For example, Harris Jewelry purchased its popular Mother’s Medal of Honor at $77.70 but sold it at $799.… [C]onsumers often reported stones falling out, chains breaking, and the finish fading.”
– Offering service members protection plans on the jewelry that it claimed were optional but were added to nearly all eligible transactions without disclosing that to the consumer. In some instances, the cost of the protection plan exceeded the wholesale cost Harris paid for the item.
“Harris Jewelry claimed to serve and support our troops, but its business practices were entirely self-serving,” said New York State Attorney General Letitia James in a statement. “For years, Harris Jewelry misled military members and saddled them with thousands of dollars of debt.
“Today’s action will help thousands of service members get back on their feet,” she added. “Our troops bravely put our protection above their own and deserve to be treated with integrity and respect. Predatory lenders and businesses harming service members should be warned that their actions will not be tolerated.”
An independent monitor will oversee the relief to eligible Harris customers. service members, and veterans, who will receive an email and letter notifying them of this agreement and their eligibility. If any individual did not receive a letter but believes they qualify, they should file a claim with the Watertown regional AG office.
Joining New York State in the agreement were the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, and Hawaii’s Office of Consumer Protection.
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