SEATTLE – The Washington Attorney General’s Office filed suit today against an out-of-state advertising firm accused of using deceptive promotions to market new and used cars for Washington dealers.
Automotive Consultant Group, based in Metairie, La., is accused of misrepresenting the nature of sales events, the financing available and the value of vehicles as well as using “simulated checks” and contest promotions that could mislead consumers. Company president Craig A. Stowe and his wife, Carolyn F. Stowe, are also listed as defendants in the lawsuit filed today in Thurston County Superior Court.
“Washington dealers need to carefully select the companies they hire to promote their business,” said Assistant Attorney General Mary Lobdell. “Some marketing firms, especially those located in another state, may not be familiar with Washington’s car dealer and consumer protection laws. If these companies use promotions that mislead or deceive interested buyers, both the marketing firm and the dealer may be found in violation of Washington laws.”
According to the state’s complaint, Automotive Consultant Group promoted auto sales events in Washington, including “The Main Event” in Vancouver in November 2005. Advertisements prepared by the company were misleading and didn’t include legally required disclosures regarding how many vehicles were available at the advertised price, financing terms and the condition of the vehicles.
The Attorney General’s Office alleges the company advertised the sales event as a surplus liquidation event when in fact the vehicles offered for sale were no different than those usually found at the dealership. Cars appearing in advertising photos also weren’t the same ones available for sale. In some cases, disclaimers were in small type that couldn’t be easily read.
A direct-mail campaign included a “Scratch, Match & Win” contest in which every mailer was a winner. Odds of winning were included on the mailing, but Lobdell said the description was misleading and made it appear that all prizes were readily available when that wasn’t true.
Other mailers looked like checks and include the words “PAY TO THE ORDER OF,” but were actually ads.
“Washington laws require that automobile ads contain certain disclosures and that advertised used cars are actually available for sale,” Lobdell said. “It’s also not fair to mislead consumers in believing they have a chance to win a prize that isn’t actually available to them.”
The Attorney General’s Office claims the actions violate the state’s Consumer Protection Act, Prizes and Promotions Act and Department of Licensing statutes. The state is asking for civil penalties and injunctive provisions to prevent Automotive Consultant Group from using similar marketing in Washington.
Automotive Consultant Group Complaint
Media Contacts: Kristin Alexander, Media Relations Manager – Seattle, (206) 464-6432
Mary Lobdell, Assistant Attorney General, (253) 593-2256