From Bouquets to Bangles: New FTC Brochures Offer Tips for Consumes and Merchants

For Your Information

Mother’s Day is May 10 and it’s a time when many consumers purchase flowers and jewelry as gifts. The Federal Trade Commission has three publications that can help ensure consumers aren’t disappointed with their purchases and that businesses accurately advertise their goods.

Because some bogus telemarketers pose as local florists and either charge higher fees or never deliver the bouquet you ordered, the agency’s new brochure -- "Petal Pushers: Is Your 'Local’ Florist Really Long-Distance?" -- offers tips about how to protect yourself when ordering flowers. For example:

  • Deal only with shops that list street addresses with their phone numbers.
  • Ask the florist to itemize the bill so you know what charges to expect. For example, most florists charge a delivery fee and taxes if you live in the same state as the shop.
  • Check with the local Better Business Bureau or consumer protection office to see if there are any unresolved consumer complaints on file about the company.

When it comes to jewelry, the FTC enforces the Jewelry Guides and has a brochure for consumers and one for jewelry merchants. The consumer publication, "All That Glitters ... The Jive on Jewelry," explains key terms about gold, platinum, silver, gemstones, diamonds, and pearls. It also lists several shopping tips for consumers, including:

  • Ask about the store’s refund and return policy before you buy.
  • Check for the appropriate markings on metal jewelry.
  • For simple gold jewelry, without special design or workmanship, comparison shop for the best price based on the item’s gram weight and the price of gold.
  • Ask if the pearls are natural, cultured, or imitation.
  • Ask whether the gemstone is natural, laboratory-created, or imitation.
  • Ask if the gemstone has been treated. Is the change permanent? Is special care required?
  • Make sure the jeweler writes on the sales receipt any information you relied on when making your purchase, such as the gem’s weight or size. Some jewelers also may supply a grading report from a gemological laboratory.

The industry brochure, "In the Loupe: Advertising Diamonds, Gemstones and Pearls," explains how jewelers and others who sell jewelry should describe diamond weight, gemstone treatments and pearls.

For example, sellers may describe diamond weight in either decimals or fractions. If decimals are used, the figure should be accurate to the last decimal place. This means that a .30 carat diamond may weigh between .295 to .304 (rounded to .30) carats. If fractions are used to describe the weight, sellers must disclose that diamond weights are not exact and give the reasonable range of weight for the fraction. This means that a 1/2 carat diamond could weigh between .47 to .54 carats.

Sometimes, gemstones are treated or enhanced to improve their appearance or durability. Some treatments may not be permanent, and some treated gemstones require special care. If this is the case, the Jewelry Guides advise that sellers tell consumers that a stone has been treated, whether the treatment is permanent, and any special requirements for caring for the stone.

When it comes to describing pearls, jewelers should inform consumers whether the pearls are cultured or imitation. Only natural pearls, which are extremely rare, can be advertised as "pearls" without further qualification.

Copies of these brochures, other consumer education materials, and the Jewelry Guides are available on the FTC’s web site at: http://www.ftc.gov or by writing or calling: Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC 20580; 202- FTC-HELP (202-382-4357); TDD for the hearing impaired: 1-866-653-4261. The FTC enforces the Jewelry Guides and while it cannot intervene in individual disputes, consumers can alert the agency to problems by contacting the Consumer Response Center.

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