In a sting operation in conjunction with the district attorney's office and the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, undercover investigators bought 26 pieces of jewelry at 11 businesses. Five stores passed the karat test and six failed. Those that failed include The Jewel Box in Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, Peter Jewelry in Hempstead, Simons Jewelry in Massapequa, and the Golden Taj, Yael Creations and Lydia's Jewelry at Tri County Flea Market in Levittown.
"Most 10-karat items that we bought were under 10 karats," said Roger C. Bogsted, commissioner of the county Office of Consumer Affairs. "They were between eight and nine karats. In the U.S. you can't sell that as gold. They are selling junk and calling it gold. The little guy is taking the hit while others profit from their misdeeds. We cannot, and we will not tolerate these unscrupulous actions taking place in our county."
Some indications that jewelry may not be legitimate are the absence of a trademark or quality stamp, rough edges, a green cast or indistinct features. Items that frequently failed the karat test performed by the Jewelers Vigilance Committee were charms and earrings.
"Consumers' pockets are being picked," said Cecilia Gardner, executive director and general council of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee. "The problem is in a specific segment of the population. We're finding problem in small discount stores where people shop for bargains."
The six businesses that failed the karat test were each hit with two violations, one for deceptive practices and one for unconscionable trade practices per sale. Businesses face fines of up to $2,500 for a first violation, $4,000 for a second and up to $5,000 for each additional violation. This means that for a store where investigators purchased eight items that all failed a karat test, fines could be as high as $76,500.
"We believe they knowingly sold under-karated jewelry," said Bogsted. "We want to level the playing field for vendors."
This is just the beginning of the Office of Consumer Affairs' effort to aggressively root out fraud in jewelry businesses. The consumer advocacy initiative will continue in upcoming months. So far the investigation has cost $1,000, which the district attorney's office paid for.
"If you're shopping for good jewelry, go to stores that have a reputation for selling the best product," said Bogsted. "Don't be fooled by come-ons that promise you bargains but wind up costing you your hard-earned dollars."
The stores that passed the investigation were Golden Star Jewelry and Lezas Gold Jewelry in West Hempstead, Jewelry Castle and Littman Jewelers in Green Acres Mall and Bob's Jewelry in Tri County Flea Market.
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