Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) Commissioner Lorelei Salas today announced charges against two used car dealerships, Prestige Motor Sales, Inc. in Brooklyn and Champion Auto Sales LLC, with locations in Brooklyn and Bronx, along with their owners, for engaging in deceptive and unlawful trade practices that preyed on New Yorkers.The used car dealerships, with the aid of several financing companies, profited from consumers using an array of illegal marketing and business practices. DCWP’s petitions, which will be heard by the City’s Office of Administrative Hearings and Trials (OATH), allege numerous violations, including violations of the City’s new laws and rules designed to prevent predatory lending by the industry. DCWP is seeking $204,000 in restitution for 24 consumers, civil penalties, license suspension or revocation, and the creation of a consumer restitution fund. DCWP is also seeking consumer restitution from the lending institutions that financed the transactions that were involved in the dealerships’ unlawful activity.
“DCWP has zero tolerance for businesses that use deceptive practices to prey on innocent New Yorkers,” said DCWP Commissioner Lorelei Salas. “Working families depend on their cars to go to work, take their kids to the doctor, and to get groceries, and can’t afford to be left with massive debt or a broken vehicle when they need it most. Because cars are such a large purchase for many consumers, transparency in the car buying process is essential. We will continue to fight against any business that uses illegal practices to profit from vulnerable New Yorkers.”
The dealerships’ deception includes:
- Advertising Deceptively to Lure Vulnerable Consumers
Champion advertises low prices for used cars online, but then refuses to honor the advertised prices when consumers show up, instead selling the cars for much higher prices. One consumer decided to purchase a 2013 Nissan Rogue after seeing an online advertisement by Champion that offered it for $9,980. After being rushed through the signing process, the consumer noticed that she was charged $13,000 instead of the advertised $9,980; when asked, Champion claimed the difference was “office fees.” The consumer also inquired why she was charged an additional $1,295 for an automobile service contract. Champion falsely claimed the service contract was required by Westlake, the financing company.
Prestige deceptively advertises its vehicles at prices below what the dealer actually charges for them. On its websites, Prestige prominently displays one price next to the vehicle while concealing in fine print that the displayed price is after a $3,000 down payment. When consumers contact the dealership to verify the online prices before traveling to the dealership, Prestige reinforces the deception by confirming the price of the vehicles as listed on the site, with no mention of the additional required $3,000 down payment. Once consumers are at the dealership, Prestige employs a host of other deceptive tactics to add even more fees to cost of the vehicle.
- Disregarding Automobile Safety and Consumer Rights
The dealerships fail to perform legally-mandated inspections and falsely certify that their vehicles are roadworthy. As a result, consumers end up with defective, dangerous automobiles, and are forced to pay thousands of dollars for repairs.
In addition, both Champion and Prestige compel consumers to sign illegal documents in which they attempt to limit their state law responsibilities to ensure each car they sell is in safe condition at the time of sale.
- Failing to Provide Receipts of Deposits
The law requires dealers to provide consumers with a receipt for deposits that must include a description of the automobile, including make, color, and year; price of the vehicle and finance charges; if the deposit is refundable; and under what conditions would the deposit be refundable. Both dealers have failed to provide these receipts to all consumers and on other occasions have provided them without the required disclosures.
- Attempting to Cover-Up and Conceal Their Illegal Practices
Champion attempted to hide its false advertisements by submitting to DCWP 16 advertisements that had been manipulated to make it appear as if each car’s advertised price was higher than the price for which Champion sold the automobile. In fact, the true advertisements displayed a lower price than the price at which each car was sold.
Prestige also attempted to hide its deceptive practices from DCWP by not producing the documents that the Agency requested by subpoena.
The dealerships also violated new laws and rules that went into effect last year to combat predatory practices in the used car industry. The laws and rules require used car dealers provide consumers with and have them sign the Consumer Bill of Rights, a Financing Disclosure Form , and a Contract Cancellation Option – all in the language in which the contract was negotiated. These required documents, which are available in multiple languages at nyc.gov/dcwp, ensure that all consumers are aware of their financing options and understand the terms of their sales contract.
DCWP currently licenses 695 used car dealerships citywide, and it has received more than 6,500 complaints about the industry since 2015. Since 2014, DCWP has conducted over 3,200 inspections of used car dealerships and issued over 1,200 violations, most of which were for unlicensed activity, failing to post required signs, and parking vehicles on the sidewalk or road. As a result of mediating complaints, charging businesses with violations of the law and rules, and executing settlements, DCWP has secured nearly $2.7 million in consumer restitution and over $1.6 million in fines against used car dealerships over the past five years.
DCWP encourages New Yorkers who are looking to buy a used car to read the Used Car Consumer Bill of Rights, which dealerships are required to post and give to each consumer before they sign a sales contract. The Bill of Rights must be provided to the consumer in the language in which the contract was negotiated if the translation is available on DCWP’s website. Any consumer who has had a problem with a used car dealership should to file a complaint by visiting nyc.gov/dcwp or contacting 311. New Yorkers who are trying to get their finances in order before buying a car or who are struggling with debt can make an appointment for free, one-on-one financial counseling at one of the City’s Financial Empowerment Centers by calling 311 or online at nyc.gov/TalkMoney.
DCWP’s cases against Prestige Motor Sales, Inc. and Champion Auto Sales LLC are being handled by Senior Staff Counsel Bradley McCormick and Staff Counsel Shirley Boutin, under the supervision of Associate General Counsel Adam Blumenkrantz of the General Counsel Division, which is led by General Counsel Tamala Boyd and Deputy General Counsel Michael Tiger.
About NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP)
The NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) protects and enhances the daily economic lives of New Yorkers to create thriving communities. DCWP licenses more than 81,000 businesses in more than 50 industries and enforces key consumer protection, licensing, and workplace laws that apply to countless more. By supporting businesses through equitable enforcement and access to resources and, by helping to resolve complaints, DCWP protects the marketplace from predatory practices and strives to create a culture of compliance. Through its community outreach and the work of its offices of Financial Empowerment and Labor Policy & Standards, DCWP empowers consumers and working families by providing the tools and resources they need to be educated consumers and to achieve financial health and work-life balance. DCWP also conducts research and advocates for public policy that furthers its work to support New York City’s communities. For more information about DCWP and its work, call 311 or visit DCWP at nyc.gov/dcwp or on its social media sites, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.