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Washington Dealer Repays Consumers for Deceptive Gas Rebate Program

September 08, 2009

OLYMPIA, Wash. — A Vancouver, Wash., dealer agreed to repay up to $8,440 in restitution to consumers who participated in a deceptive gas rebate program, said the Washington Attorney General’s Office.

Under the agreement, Curt Warner Chevrolet Inc. will reimburse consumers with a $40 card that can be used to buy gas from a nationally recognized brand with multiple stations in the Vancouver area.

In an effort to boost car sales, the dealership mailed a “Scratch and Win” promotion to Vancouver residents from April 3 to 6, 2008. Consumers scratched the card to reveal a number that determined their prize. The big bounty was $25,000 cash but odds were such that recipients were nearly guaranteed to win a $40 gas voucher.

“It was a free gas offer that stunk,” Assistant Attorney General Mary Lobdell said.

In all, 211 people presented the mailers to the dealership to collect their prize but obtaining the $40 in free gas proved more difficult than they expected. Consumers who attempted to redeem the winning card at the dealership received a certificate to participate in a rebate program. They had to pay $5 to enroll then purchase at least $100 of gas per month. Only after mailing those receipts would they receive a gas gift card for $25. Consumers had to continue buying gas and submitting receipts to receive additional gas gift cards.

At one point, Curt Warner Chevrolet ran out of certificates and attempted to substitute a vacation that required a $50 deposit. When a Vancouver man objected, the dealership promised to mail him a $100 gas voucher. When it didn’t arrive by the promised date, he filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s office.

The dealership eventually sent a certificate for enrollment in the rebate program, along with an apology note. But the consumer’s problems didn’t end there. After buying gas and following the strict redemption rules, the customer received a $25 gas gift card that was rejected by a local fuel station. He was told the card could only be used at Speedway and Superamerica gas stations in a handful of states — the closest in Minnesota.

“We tell consumers to read the fine print but salespeople need to do the same,” Lobdell continued. “Businesses can be held liable for deceptive advertising campaigns, even those created or managed by other companies.”

Curt Warner Chevrolet was already on probation after signing a 2007 agreement with the Attorney General’s Office to resolve concerns about its advertisements and promotions. Back then, the company paid $22,000 in attorneys’ costs and promised to comply with certain marketing rules. The Attorney General’s Office alleged the “Scratch and Win” promotion was misleading and violated the 2007 agreement.

A Florida business, Tidewater Marketing Global Consultants Inc., was behind the rebate program. The company was sued by Florida Attorney General’s Office in February 2009 and agreed to a state takeover. Consumers who visit, one of the many Web sites where Tidewater previously advertised its rebate program, are now redirected to a page with information about how to file a claim. Company president Crystal Clark separately pled guilty to drug charges in connection with selling Oxycontin.

The Washington Attorney General’s Office posted a warning on its All Consuming blog about gas vouchers offered by Tidewater and an Arizona-based company named BBZ Resource Management, which filed for bankruptcy. Since November 2008, angry consumers nationwide have posted more than 220 comments on the blog.

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