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Buyer beware: Jewels purchased at vacation destinations may be overpriced

Rossen Reports: Diamonds and precious stones purchased in vacation destinations may be overpriced. Jeff Rossen reports.
/ Source: TODAY

They're a common sight at Caribbean vacation destinations — jewelry store workers standing in doorways, promising great deals to passersby. But a Rossen Reports investigation revealed that even during vacation, it's best for buyers to beware.

The Rossen Reports team went jewelry shopping on the island of Cozumel, a popular vacation destination off the coast of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, bringing along Karen DeHaas, a certified gemologist for 41 years. At one shop they found what the proprietor said was a sapphire ring that would cost $750 in the U.S., but was sold to the Rossen team for $350.

"This is not even real sapphire," DeHaas said when she inspected the ring. "It's actually blue glass." Another independent gemologist — Gary Smith, international president of the American Society of Appraisers — also inspected the item and agreed.

DeHaas said the actual value of the ring was "25 bucks at the tops. I wouldn't put it in my fish tank. It's garbage."

DeHaas said Rossen Reports overpaid by $325. The store later apologized and offered a refund.

On another popular vacation island — Key West, Florida — a Rossen Reports producer purchased a pair of diamond stud earrings. The seller said the retail price was $4,400, but gave the Rossen producer a "deal" for $3,200.

"They're not even the color or clarity they said they were," DeHaas said of the purchase. "They're much worse." DeHaas and Smith said that Rossen Reports overpaid by $800. The store apologized and offered a refund.

At another store in Key West, Rossen Reports purchased a pair of diamond studs. The seller told them they were getting a great deal at $1,900.

However, when DeHaas inspected them, she said, "These are clarity enhanced diamonds. They're worth less than half what you paid."

DeHaas and Smith said that this time Rossen Reports had overpaid by $1,050. When Rossen Reports reached out to the store, they offered to have the diamonds sent for an independent appraisal and said they were willing to refund the money if the value was lower than what Rossen Reports had paid.

Another thing to keep in mind about shopping for jewelry on vacation: You may have to pay taxes on it when you return home. When the Rossen team came back to the U.S. and went through customs, they had to pay almost $300 in U.S. taxes on their jewelry purchases.

The stores Rossen Reports patronized said they have many satisfied customers.

Experts say the best advice is to be a savvy shopper even when you're on vacation: Don't let your guard down just because you're in shorts and flip-flops.

To suggest a topic for an upcoming investigation, visit the Rossen Reports Facebook page.