New York Announces Settlements with Six Auto Dealers

Last week, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced settlements with six auto dealers imposing fines ranging from $7,500 to $15,000 for allegedly engaging in deceptive and misleading advertising practices. The Attorney General alleged that the dealers advertised automobile sales and lease prices that were misleading because they included discounts or rebates that were generally unavailable to most customers. Specifically, the Attorney General alleged that the prices advertised to the public generally included the following discounts, in some cases, totaling approximately $3,000:

  • A “military” rebate
  • A “college graduate” rebate
  • A “competitive lease” rebate
  • A “NE balloon cash” discount

According to the Attorney General, however, these rebates were in fact available only to select customers, so the vast majority ended up paying significantly more than the advertised price. Mr. Schneiderman also claimed the auto dealers:

  • Used footnotes or asterisks that contradicted or altered the main content of the advertisement
  • Failed to clearly and conspicuously provide required disclosures, including the annual percentage rate and percentage of the down payment
  • Restricted prices to “qualified buyers” without disclosing the qualifications
  • Used a font size that was difficult to read

The Attorney General has recently issued advertising guidelines for automobile dealers.

This action is another example of the State of New York regulating entities (auto dealers) that are outside Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) jurisdiction. Both Mr. Schneiderman and the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) Superintendent, Benjamin Lawsky, have emphasized that a central mission of their agencies is to fill these regulatory gaps. We anticipate that these agencies will continue to target for enforcement those areas that are outside CFPB jurisdiction.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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