Dutchess County Auto Dealer Settles State Investigation

Attorney General Spitzer today announced an agreement with a Hudson Valley auto dealership alleged to have violated state and federal advertising laws.

Heartland Auto Group, Inc., which does business as Heart Acura and Heart Kia in Wappingers Falls, agreed to reform its advertising practices to ensure compliance with laws that prohibit false advertising and with state guidelines related to auto dealer ads.

"My office will continue its efforts to reform auto advertising practices across the state to ensure that consumers receive reliable information about sales offers," Spitzer said. "These efforts level the playing field among auto dealers so that no business has a competitive advantage through false and deceptive promotions."

Spitzer's office had raised concerns about Heartland's radio commercials and newspaper advertisements for Heart Kia that lured consumers to their showrooms with misleading statements such as:

  • "Push, pull, drag trade-in and get $4,000 minimum trade-in value!" which was inherently deceptive because the ads failed to disclose that the prices of cars offered in the advertisements are generally increased to offset the minimum trade-in amount;
  • Advertisements offering deep discounts on the price of certain cars in bold print while describing stringent restrictions on the offer in fine print in a footnote;
  • Advertisements that prominently displayed attractive prices for certain vehicles that couldn't, in fact, be obtained because the advertised prices did not include taxes, fees and surcharges;
  • Advertisements with terms of financing such as "6.9% for 60 months" or "only 5% down" that violated federal advertising laws because they were not accompanied by other crucial loan/leasing terms.

In settling the investigation, Heartland Auto Group agreed to pay $10,000 in civil penalties.

This case is the latest in an on-going effort by the Attorney General's Office to monitor auto advertising practices throughout the state. Since 1999, Spitzer's office has commenced nearly
190 enforcement actions against auto dealers and their advertising associations which largely involved violations of federal and state laws that regulate auto advertising.

For more information about auto buying and tips on spotting deceptive auto advertising, consumers are encouraged to visit the Attorney General's website at www.ag.ny.gov.

Individuals interested in filing a complaint against an auto dealer are directed to call the Attorney General's consumer help line at (800) 771-7755.

This case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Garin of the Poughkeepsie Regional Office with the assistance of Senior Consumer Frauds Representative Mark Hoops.

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