Q: I bought a gold necklace and later discovered that the jeweler charged me double the retail value of the necklace and indicated that it was 2.0 oz. of gold, when it weighed only 1.8 oz. What recourse do I have?
A: Fraudulent overcharging is called ona’a. Our sages established that if the price differential is less than one-sixth (about 16.7%) more than the prevailing price, the customer cannot claim ona’a. If it is just about one-sixth more than the prevailing price, then the customer is entitled to a refund of the differential, and if it is more than one-sixth above the prevailing price, the customer can invalidate the sale entirely (Hoshen Mishpat 227:2-4).
Most items nowadays do not have a set value, but are sold within a price range. To claim ona’a, the price paid would have to be at least one-sixth more than the upper end of the price range. Here, since the jeweler charged double the value, according to halacha, you should be able to invalidate the sale.
However, ona’a can only be claimed shortly after the purchase, during the time it takes to have the item evaluated by another professional. Therefore, if time passed since you bought the necklace, you can no longer claim ona’a (227:7).
When there is an error in weighing, you can demand a refund even for a small discrepancy and even after an extended period of time. Therefore, you can certainly still claim a refund on the 0.2 oz of gold for which you were unfairly charged (232:1).
This article is intended for learning purposes only; a competent rabbi should be consulted for practical halachic guidance regarding actual cases, in which issues of dina d’malchuta may also need to be considered.
Rabbi Meir Orlian is a faculty member of the Business Halacha Institute, which is headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, shelita, a noted dayan. For questions regarding business halacha issues, or to bring a BHI lecturer to your business or shul, please call the confidential hotline at 877-845-8455 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.