Harris Jewelry, a New York-based national jewelry outlet that catered to military bases across the country, agreed on Wednesday to pay $34.2 million to settle claims that the firm targeted service members using shady credit transactions and "misleading" sales tactics, according to court filings.
"Today's settlement resolves allegations that Harris Jewelers targeted military service members with dishonest sales and financing tactics at now-shuttered stores located near military bases across the country," said a press release from the California attorney general's office.
The retailer, which shut down nationwide during the pandemic, boasted of its service to service members and families in marketing materials.
"For over 65 years, Harris Jewelry has been providing military personnel and their families exceptional customer service," the company's website said. "That remains its mission to this day."
California's Department of Justice claimed that Harris Jewelry violated several federal and state laws, including the Military Lending Act, a regulation meant to protect service members from predatory sales practices, in part by requiring lenders to provide "written and oral disclosures" to troops seeking a loan, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).
"Harris Jewelers targeted active duty service members with the sales pitch that purchasing from them on credit would, regardless of their credit history or subsequent payments, improve service members' credit scores," the press release said.
The settlement requires Harris Jewelry to cease collecting millions of dollars of outstanding debt from thousands of service members, to include providing refunds of almost $12.9 million to 46,204 service members who paid for jewelry and gifts with loans.
Harris Jewelry is also banned from marketing its jewelry, according to the press release, "including ceasing operation of its businesses."
The settlement and the subsequent ban spans 17 other states, including Georgia, Kansas, Virginia, North Carolina and Hawaii -- locations of prominent military bases.
In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission reported that military service members, veterans and their families accounted for 153,850 reports of fraud or identity theft at significantly higher rates than their civilian counterparts, with credit or lending-related scams constituting about 20% of those reports.
"Today's settlement should serve as a warning to any businesses thinking of engaging in shady practices to make an extra buck," said California Attorney General Rob Bonta. "We will not stand idly by."
-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.