Many companies say they want to serve those who serve. But some companies take advantage of our military personnel and use unlawful practices to lure them into deceptive deals. That’s why the FTC and eighteen states have brought charges against Harris Jewelry for violating federal and state lending and consumer protection laws. This is also the FTC’s first case alleging violations of the Military Lending Act (MLA).
Harris sold jewelry, watches, and military-themed items to active-duty servicemembers at its stores near and sometimes on military bases. According to the FTC, Harris allegedly lured servicemembers in with shady practices, for instance, not giving them some information required to be disclosed under the MLA including a statement of the Military Annual Percentage Rate.
Almost all of Harris’s sales were on credit, through its in-store financing plans. Harris touted its financing plans as a way for servicemembers to raise their credit scores — and an effective way for servicemembers to get lower interest rates in the future. But Harris had no evidence to back that up. Financing a purchase does not guarantee you’ll end up with a higher credit score. And no one can guarantee that a servicemember would be able to borrow money on more favorable terms in the future by entering into a financing plan now, particularly without knowing a servicemember’s current credit score and payment history. The company also allegedly included protection plans as cost add-ons by misrepresenting the plans — or not disclosing them well enough — to servicemembers.
The settlement will stop Harris from similar practices in the future. It requires the company to give affected servicemembers refunds for purchased add-on protection plans, stop collection of servicemembers’ debt, and ask consumer reporting agencies to delete negative credit entries. Harris also must pay the states $1,000,000 to be used for law enforcement and education efforts and complete shutting down and dissolving its operations under the states’ laws once it meets its obligations under the order.
To learn more about managing your credit, visit MilitaryConsumer.gov, read the FTC’s articles, Understanding Your Credit and Credit Scores, and talk with a military personal financial counselor. All active-duty, National Guard, and reserve servicemembers, their family members, and survivors can get free financial counseling services. Find a Department of Defense financial counselor near you.
If you encounter these or other deceptive practices, tell the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.