Snohomish County dealer exploited Spanish-speaking customers
EVERETT — Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced today that Snohomish County used car dealer Zein Automobiles Inc., which operates Best Bet Auto Sales and Independence Auto Center, will pay $250,000 over its pattern of discriminating against Spanish-language speakers at its dealerships.
Zein, also known as ZAG Auto Group, lured Spanish-speaking customers from as far away as Wenatchee through ads in Spanish-language media, promising financing even for those without a credit history. Most of the salespeople at Zein’s dealerships spoke Spanish, and half the dealerships’ sales were conducted in Spanish. The dealerships orally offered Spanish-speaking customers one set of terms, but presented a different set of terms in documents written in English.
As a result, Zein Automobiles and its employees misrepresented loan terms, interest rates, title branding issues and warranties in violation of the Washington Law Against Discrimination and the state Consumer Protection Act. The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) estimates that as many as 3,000 customers may be eligible to receive money from the settlement.
For example, all of the documents one customer signed for the car he purchased were in English, and he relied on the salesperson to orally communicate what he was signing. He believed his interest rate was 3 percent, when in fact it was nearly 30 percent, a fact he did not find out until later.
Another customer, also lured by Spanish-language advertising, purchased a previously totaled vehicle, despite being told in Spanish that the dealership didn’t sell cars that had been in accidents. As most conventional banks will not finance cars with “salvage titles,” he was also saddled with a nearly 30 percent loan interest rate.
“I won’t tolerate this attempt to exploit the Latino community,” said Attorney General Bob Ferguson. “This dealer lured these customers in by targeting the Spanish-speaking community, and then exploited the language barrier.”
Investigators found that Zein Automobiles targeted Spanish speakers by spending the vast majority of its advertising budget on Spanish-language airtime. Some of its Spanish-language advertisements suggest Zein Automobiles is a “miembro activo de la comunidad hispana local” — an “active member of the local Hispanic community” — to lure Spanish-speaking customers.
The AGO’s Wing Luke Civil Rights Unit began investigating Zein Automobiles in the spring of 2015, after advocates from the Northwest Justice Project referred complaints to the AGO.
In a consent decree filed in Snohomish County Superior Court, Zein Automobiles Inc. agreed to:
- Pay $250,000 in restitution, costs and fees;
- Make Spanish-language contracts available whenever it advertises in Spanish and provide them to customers when the sales transaction is conducted in Spanish;
- Honor all warranties promised in its advertisements, including six-month and one-year warranties; and
- Cease any deceptive or misleading practices in its advertising or sales, including making any statement that creates a false impression regarding the premise of a sale, the warranty available, the monthly payment, the interest rate or any other term of payment.
If you purchased a vehicle at one of the company’s two dealerships, Best Bet Auto Sales or Independence Auto Sales, and believe you may be victim of the discriminatory, unfair or deceptive practices detailed in this case, please call the Attorney General’s Office at (844) 323-3864. Claim forms are also available online in Spanish and English.
The Wing Luke Civil Rights unit works to protect the rights of all Washington residents by enforcing state and federal anti-discrimination laws. It is named for Wing Luke, who served as an Assistant Attorney General for the state of Washington in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He went on to become the first person of color elected to the Seattle City Council and the first Asian-American elected to public office in the Pacific Northwest.
A Spanish-language version of this news release is available here.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Peter Lavallee, Communications Director, (360) 586-0725; PeterL@atg.wa.gov