Signet Jewelers discloses that the consumer watchdog is considering legal action for its in-store credit practices

Key Points
  • Signet disclosed the CFPB is considering legal action against Signet for its in-store credit practices.
  • The New York attorney general is also investigating.
  • Signet believes these claims lack merit.
A pedestrian walks past a Zales store in New York.
Scott Eells | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Signet Jewelers has been notified by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that the agency may take legal action against the company for its in-store credit practices, Signet disclosed in a filing Friday evening.

The notification, which Signet received on Sept. 6, stated the potential action would pertain to Signet's "credit practices, promotions, and payment protection products." It relates to an inquiry made in late 2016.

The New York state attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, is also investigating Signet for similar issues.

Signet said in the filing it is unable to predict the timing, outcome or possible range of losses pertaining to either claim. It is cooperating with the investigations, though believes the claims against it lack merit.

Signet, owner of jewelry chains Zales, Kay and Jared, has long been scrutinized for its extensive offering of credit, particularly to those with low FICO scores. For this fiscal year, 62 percent of its $3.9 billion sales in its "sterling jeweler" business were offered on credit. This division includes Kay, Jared and their respective outlets.

This spring, it sold $1 billion worth of prime accounts in its credit busines to Alliance Data Systems, part of its efforts to shift risk off its balance sheet.

CPFB, the watchdog agency set up to protect consumers after the recession, last year fined Wells Fargo $100 million for illegal sales processes. It has also been investigating housing online realty company Zillow.

"It's like they try and make you keep the rings"

A review of the CFPB's website on Saturday revealed 585 complaints about Signet's sterling jeweler business. Complaints allege attempts to reclaim money not owed, abusive language used by debt collectors and fake accounts set up through identity theft.

Because these complaints are anonymous, they could not be independently verified. It is unclear which of these complaints, if any, sparked the potential CFPB investigation.

"It's like they try and make you keep the rings, so all around it was game after game," wrote one consumer in March "I was also told by the store manager that I didn't own them anything at all and now I 'm being charged [redacted amount]."

"Store cards were opened in my name and birth date with an unknown social security number," wrote another frustrated consumer in May. "[The] creditor sent cards to an address I never resided in a state I never resided."

The potential investigation comes at a hard time for Signet. The jewelry company swung to a loss the third quarter of this year, in part driven by industry-wide slower sales of engagement rings. Earlier this year it faced claims of sexual harassment, which it has denied. Its CEO Mark Light stepped down this summer for health reasons.

Shares of Signet, which has a market capitalization of $3.1 billion, were down 1.52 percent on Friday in after-hours trading on low volume.