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A Client Shows Up to Pick Up Her Repaired Jewelry, But a Masked Man Has Already Paid and Left With It

Is the store liable, and should anything have been done differently?

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OLIVER AND SON was a respected, family-owned store in a high-end, suburban shopping center outside of Houston. James Oliver started the business more than 75 years ago as a small repair shop — a part of the business his son Joe and now his grandson David had taken great care to cultivate. The store used a detailed take-in procedure that included careful inspection and diamond authenticity verification, accurate descriptions, value declarations and customer signatures indicating agreement with all information as well as standard disclaimers. Their POS-generated repair ticket included a bar code for in-store tracking and a copy that served as the customer’s claim check. At the time of delivery, the customer was offered a loupe and the opportunity to inspect the work carefully. Assuming the work had been completed to the customer’s satisfaction, the repair ticket would have to be signed by the customer acknowledging receipt of the merchandise.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at [email protected]

The Saturday before Valentine’s Day, a young man came into the store asking to pick up his mother’s repair. The store had three people out that day (including the service manager). The two remaining salespeople and the sales manager were all with other customers, so the store’s bookkeeper was called to the counter to help. The man was well-mannered and appeared to pay careful attention to the store’s COVID-19 precautions, wearing a mask, staying a safe distance from other customers and respecting the floor markers indicating a required distance from the counter. He told the bookkeeper that his mom was recovering from minor surgery, so he was out taking care of her errands. He presented the claim check, and the finished job was located. The item was a three-stone platinum diamond ring with 1.5-carat center diamond. The value of the ring was listed at $19,000. The job had been to re-tip a prong on one of the side diamonds and to tighten all of the others for a price of $232. The man inspected the work, signed the repair ticket, paid cash for the job, and left with the ring and good wishes for his mom.

Just before closing the following Tuesday, a customer named Jan Forde came into the store and asked to speak to Carol Bostick, the store’s longest tenured salesperson. She said she was there to pick up the ring she had left for repair two weeks before. She told Carol that she must have inadvertently left her claim check at home but would be happy to provide identification. Carol remembered Ms. Forde but verified the picture and last name on the customer’s driver’s license anyway, per policy. She checked Ms. Forde’s file in the system to see that the job had been completed and went to get the job bag out of the safe. The job was not in the file, nor did it seem to be anywhere else.

After 30 minutes of witnessing what grew to be a frantic search by several employees, the seemingly distressed Ms. Forde left, with Carol assuring her that since repairs never left the store, the ring was most likely just misfiled, and that she would get in touch the minute it was located. Carol and the store’s service manager continued the search the next morning and finally located the completed repair slip and claim check in a stack that was waiting to be processed as “delivered.” Carol noted that the job had been delivered by the bookkeeper, who explained what had transpired with the man on Saturday. She reiterated that the man had the claim slip and that she had followed all delivery procedures, including getting a signature on the repair ticket.

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Somewhat relieved, Carol called Ms. Forde to let her know that her ring had been picked up by her son on Saturday while she was recovering from her surgery. Ms. Forde said that someone had clearly made a mistake because she did not have a son, nor had she had any surgery. Carol explained that the man who had picked up the ring had presented her claim ticket, paid and signed for the repair. Ms. Forde said she was sure the claim ticket had been in the console of her husband’s car and had no idea how the “mystery man” could have gotten it. Then, calmly, she thanked Carol for the update and said that she would give the store one week to either get her ring back or provide an exact replacement.

Although the bookkeeper could describe the man, his mask had obscured his face, and she had no idea who he was. The signature on the repair ticket was illegible. No one else had noticed him in the store, and the store’s security camera footage was of little help in identifying him. David Oliver contacted his cousin — a detective with the local police department — who told him that since the man provided the claim check and paid for the repair, responsibility for filing a police report would fall on Ms. Forde, from whom the claim check was apparently stolen. David’s stomach began to churn as he considered both the financial and potential public relations implications of the situation.

The Big Questions

  • Is the store liable for replacing Ms. Forde’s ring?
  • Should policy require verifying identification even when a customer has a claim check?
  • Might a policy of requiring customers to remove their mask long enough to get a security camera picture have deterred the “mystery man” in this case? Could the whole episode be a scam?
Allan A.
Bradenton, FL

Whatever name is on the repair envelope is the responsible party to pick it up. It can have more than one name on the envelope. Anyone can bring in a claim ticket. When you become busy, more mistakes can happen. Make sure everyone is trained properly. The store is held responsible. An expensive lesson to be learned.

Tracy W.
San Gabriel, CA

It is the store’s responsibility to make sure the ring is returned to the owner. We require a verbal authorization from anyone picking up another’s job, regardless of relationship. We would have called to verify that she gave her permission to pick it up. If we were not able to reach her, speaking with her husband (if any) would be acceptable.

Michael F.
Kokomo, IN

This could be an insurance fraud scheme between the ring owner and a friend. However, let’s NOT go down that path … yet. In the best situation, a copy of the license from the individual picking up the ring would have been an option, especially due to the dollar value. Absolutely, get the police report, especially if you have a claim on replacement. Most insurance companies will need the report. Very unfortunate situation for ALL involved.

Drue S.
Albany, NY

Yes, I do think the store is liable. Never should you give a person who is not the client an order or repair unless you get a copy of the person’s license carrying the claim check. I have actually called clients in the past, making sure that I was allowed to give the jewelry to the person in my store. If I am unable to contact the customer, I do not allow the jewelry to leave my store.

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You just cannot trust people today, especially since everyone is wearing masks. Identification becomes a problem. We pay for insurance, so hopefully this mistake will be covered.

Theresa P.
Fruita, CO

Notify the police. This is a classic case of the car was parked at a valet service. The valet attendant rifled the car for valuables, found the claim ticket and went to the store to claim the item. An ID card should be presented on pick-up of items. Never store claim tickets for valuables in your car.

Jim D.
Kingston, NH

It appears that Ms. Forde needs to contact the local police department and report the theft. But Oliver & Son should be in the clear. With their process being followed to the letter, and having the claim ticket, they did their due diligence. It does sound like a scam, and Oliver & Son should contact the police in their own best interest.

My policy is the person who drops off a repair has to pick it up. I once returned an engagement ring to the fiancé of the woman who dropped it off, she sued (I did not know that she had decided not to marry the guy), but the court informed her that the ring actually belonged to the man until the wedding, and I was awarded court costs and attorney’s fees. In this case, the ring belongs to the holder of the claim ticket.

Michael S.
Winston-Salem, NC

They made one HUGE mistake: They did not verify with the original client that someone else would be receiving their property. We have a similar background as we started as a trade shop 51 years ago and evolved into a retail jeweler. Most of the time, if a client wants someone else to pick up the jewelry, they will call. We take the information as to whom that will be and explain they will need a photo ID. If someone just shows up, we ask for their ID and contact the client for verification at the phone number on our ticket. If we cannot get the client, they do not get the jewelry. I believe that they will be held liable.

Jack L.
Lake Forest, CA

Easy peasy. If someone other than the original dropper-offer comes in to pick up the repair, claim check or not, call that original dropper-offer to verify that they sent the person standing in front of you.

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Stuart T.
Bel Air, MD

A number of years ago, we had something similar to this happen. Husband and wife came in and dropped wife’s engagement ring off to be repaired. Next week, husband comes in to pick up with receipt. Short story, they split up in between, with the wife coming in the next week. Of course, she screamed and hollered. After speaking to legal counsel, we were told that customer had an obligation to safeguard the receipt, and that it was her responsibility to inform us about the dispute over the receipt. Never heard from them again after informing her.

Marcus M.
Midland, TX

This smells like a scam to me! She left the take-in form in her husband’s truck, and then someone they don’t know took it from there? These are crooks at work right here. It sucks that they can’t identify the guy that picked it up, but I would certainly get investigators on this and see if you can crack Ms. Forde. Too much seems fishy about this story and I don’t think some random guy took the form from her husband’s truck. Nope … SCAM.

David B.
Calgary, AB

Not sure which makes me more upset, the fact that this can happen or that your magazine wrote about it so some jerk can try it. This is a CRN (“customer relations nightmare”). This made me go to my staff and discuss the scenario and come up with a tighter repair protocol. A major problem is that people lose the claim form or think it is worthless. Probably 60 percent come back without the form.

I would not feel obligated to replace the item. People need to know that the claim stub they receive is like cash. When I go to the dry cleaner without my claim form, they ask a ton of questions. Why should jewelers be less cautious?

Social media will have a great time with it. All because someone scammed the store and the client did not hold the form in high enough regard to safeguard it.

The sad truth is that we don’t think like a thief and so are always a step behind and carrying the responsibility.

Keith N.
Monkton, MD

This sounds like a real customer relation nightmare. The receipt is a key component of the customer’s property. I have found that after 20 years with a generic bar-coded receipt, many customers do tend to come in for delivery without any receipt at all. Good customer relations with well-trained staff is usually effective with delivery. In this case, the person claiming the item for pick-up had too much “inside knowledge” about the item. A policy must be put in place for personal verification with the owner of the item. In these days of cell phones and text messages, it would have been better to turn the pick-up person away and wait for another day by letting the owner of the ring know that the store was only looking out for her property.

This whole situation seems fishy, and fortunately, after 23 years on my own and just a handful of unexplained occurrences, all of those mysteries have gotten explained.

Rex S.
Houston, TX

This likely will depend on the question of whether the business was negligent in releasing a repair to someone possessing the claim check who was not the person named on the claim check. If the claim check is found to be essentially a “bearer” instrument, meaning that whoever possesses it would be entitled the benefit, then there would likely not be liability. If it were found that the claim ticket had the owner’s name on the document and that the person who presented the claim ticket represented that they were not the named person, the business should have recorded to whom they delivered it. Lastly, if the business buys more than $50,000 of precious metals from the general public in a calendar year, then under the Patriot Act they are required to have an AML policy and require the positive identification of all individuals with which the business conducts ANY transactions. Even though the “son” paid cash, the bookkeeper should have positively documented the identity of the individual with whom the transaction was conducted.

Mike B.
Kennesaw, GA

Yes, the store is responsible for replacing the ring. Just because someone has a claim ticket and a good story should not allow them to pick up the piece if their name is not on the repair ticket. At a minimum, the store should have called Ms. Forde to verify someone else is authorized to pick up the item. Also, a copy of the photo ID of the person picking it up should have done as well. For the store to say they followed “procedure” and the burden of the police report is now on Ms. Forde is ridiculous.

Colleen Z.
Hershey, PA

The store is absolutely liable for replacing Ms. Forde’s ring. Even if it was a scam, their lack of comprehensive security is the reason the ring went missing in the first place. If they had better security policies for pick up, the scam would not have been successful. Our policy is that if someone other than the name on the job is picking up, the person who dropped off must be contacted for approval and the pick-up person must show identification. There is no reason why this policy wasn’t in place at Oliver and Son. It doesn’t hurt to verify identification even with a claim check, but that wouldn’t have helped in this instance since the gentleman clearly indicated it wasn’t his job in the first place. While asking them to remove their mask may have been a deterrent, there are other policies that don’t endanger the employees’ health, are more likely to be a deterrent, and can absolutely prevent this situation from ever occurring.

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Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at [email protected].

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