OH NO!

We Got Ripped Off in India

A cautionary tale and reminder to do research before making a major purchase abroad.

By Berit Thorkelson, Tuesday, Oct 21, 2008, 12:00 AM

The topaz is pretty—too bad the band isn't really white gold

(Levi Brown)

What happened
While on a SmarTours trip in India, Lois Hopfenberg and Joan Hopner of Boynton Beach, Fla., followed their guide's advice and bought white-gold-and-topaz rings at Jewels & Gold Palace in Jaipur. Back in Florida, the women had the rings appraised. While the stones were real, the bands were sterling silver, not white gold. Joan's ring, which cost her $1,350, was valued at $250, while Lois's $1,875 ring was only worth $100. "Boy, was that a shockeroo," says Lois.

What they did
SmarTours manager Eli Milbaur says the purchases people make on tours are on a "buyer beware" basis. "Guides may make suggestions or try to help, but that does not take the responsibility off clients to exercise good judgment," he says. Lois and Joan sent their receipts and appraisals to their credit card companies, and the charges were later reversed.

What the experts say
Three tour operators we asked said the women should've done more research before making a major purchase, such as asking at their hotel where to find a reputable jewelry dealer. The women were wise, though, to pay with credit cards and to ensure that their receipts had descriptions of the rings, which helped the credit card companies determine there was a valid dispute. "The cardholder must have proof that the merchandise was not described properly by the merchant," says Joanne Trout, a spokeswoman for MasterCard.