The states of Florida and Tennessee have joined Texas in filing lawsuits against Friedman's Jewelers. for using deceptive tactics in the way the jeweler charged customers for insurance.
Texas sued the retailer earlier this week, charging that it duped customers into paying for life, property, and other insurance while they thought they were insuring their financing of jewelry purchases.
Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist said some 19 states are expected to join the litigation against Friedman's, which has 650 stores nationwide. Crist estimates that Friedman's allegedly sold $46.7 million of the insurance in 19 states, but failed to adequately disclose the costs to customers.
According to the Florida complaint, between 1998 and 2002 Friedman's added charges to retail contracts for life, credit disability and property insurance. Friedman's allegedly collected approximately $46,709,000 from the 19 states combined. In Florida alone, it is estimated that the company collected more than $2,265,000.
The company allegedly did not provide full disclosure about the purpose and price of the insurance charges to its customers. Instead, it allegedly added the amount to the total price of retail installment contracts without obtaining consumers' signatures to authorize the transactions. These contracts included an application for insurance that includes a designated spot for the consumer's signature, but the majority of applications for insurance were not signed by consumers, Crist said.
"This wrongful conduct ranged from duping consumers into purchasing products they did not ask for to charging them for something that may have had no value," said Crist. "During this time of year we like to think of sharing gifts and good will, but this week we join with other states to take action on behalf of consumers who were treated poorly."
Based on his investigation, Frist estimated that Floridians purchased insurance on 80 percent of the contracts they signed for Friedman's jewelry merchandise. At a sampling of six Friedman's stores in Florida, investigators found that between 10 percent and 40 percent of the contracts offered to consumers did not have signatures on the appropriate insurance paperwork.
Friedman's said in a statement that it does not condone any improper practices. "The company believes that the transactions challenged primarily arose years ago and stated that the company has in place measures designed to monitor and assure compliance with company policy concerning credit insurance sales practices."