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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 29, 2007
Attorney General settles with local dealer and ad firm for deceptive auto marketing

OLYMPIA – The Washington Attorney General’s Office announced settlements today with a local auto dealer and an out-of-state advertising firm accused of using deceptive promotions to sell cars.

The settlements filed today in Thurston County Superior Court resolve a civil lawsuit filed against Bruce Titus Automotive Group, which operates dealerships in Pierce and Thurston counties, and Level 10 Marketing, Inc., based in Slidell, La. The defendants did not admit any wrongdoing but agreed to pay civil penalties and comply with injunctive provisions concerning their marketing practices.

The Attorney General’s Office alleged the defendants advertised cars without disclosing all terms, including stating how many vehicles were available at a specific price, that they suggested that financing could be guaranteed regardless of a consumer’s credit history, and used “simulated checks” and contest promotions that could mislead consumers. Those actions violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act, Prizes and Promotions Act and Department of Licensing statutes, according to the state’s complaint.

“Washington dealers need to be upfront and honest in their advertisements and should carefully select the companies they hire to promote their business,” said Assistant Attorney General Mary Lobdell.  “All companies that do business in Washington must know and operate in accordance with Washington laws.  Both dealers and ad firms can be found in violation of Washington laws if their promotions fail to include all legally required disclosures.”

Bruce Titus Automotive Group and its president, Bruce Titus, will pay $5,000 in civil penalties plus $30,000 in attorneys’ fees and legal costs. An additional $5,000 in civil penalties was suspended provided they comply with the settlement terms.

Level 10 and David Bottner, in his capacity as president, will pay $15,000 in attorneys’ fees and legal costs. They also agreed to pay $10,000 in civil penalties, suspended provided they comply with the settlement terms.

According to the state’s complaint, the defendants sent ads that offered misleading prices and made it appear that the cars were substantially discounted. They also allegedly charged undisclosed fees and advertised vehicle lease and financing terms without all mandated disclosures. Some promotions were sent in envelopes labeled “OPEN IMMEDIATELY – TIME DATED MATERIAL” that resembled official certified mail. Other mailers looked like checks and included the words “PAY TO THE ORDER OF” but were actually ads. And some vehicle ads included statements such as “credit problems – no problem.”

Under the settlement terms, the defendants are prevented from doing any of the following:

  • Misrepresenting the number of vehicles offered at an advertised price,
  • Generating ads that create a false sense of urgency or that guarantee credit or a minimum trade-in value,
  • Using words, phases or initials in ads that aren’t easily understood by consumers or using a font size that’s difficult to read,
  • Collecting a vehicle documentary fee without disclosing that it will be added to the sale price,
  • Failing to state the odds of a winning a prize and the value of that prize, or
  • Failing to include other required disclosures or clearly stating vehicle sale prices in ads.

The case does not relate to Titus-Will dealerships.

The Attorney General’s Office sued another Louisiana-based ad firm, Automotive Consultant Group, for similar violations in August. That case is still pending.

Bruce Titus and Level 10 Complaint

Bruce Titus Consent Decree

Level 10 Consent Decree

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Media Contacts: Kristin Alexander, Media Relations Manager – Seattle, (206) 464-6432
Mary Lobdell, Assistant Attorney General, (253) 593-2256


 

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