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Two Illinois Dealerships Sued Over Direct-Mail Campaign

September 03, 2008

CHICAGO — Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit on Aug. 27 in Cook County Circuit Court against two Orland Park franchise dealers for deceptive sales and advertising practices.

Orland Park Nissan and Infiniti of Orland Park were named as defendants in the suit. The dealerships undertook a direct-mail campaign in the Chicago area in April 2007. Their mailer described an "exclusive credit amnesty event" and urged consumers to call in to arrange a private appointment. The ad indicated that targeted consumers may have filed bankruptcy in the past but that the "amnesty" would enable consumers to qualify for an affordable auto loan no matter their credit rating. Additionally, the envelope stated that "important vehicle recall information" was enclosed and that a response was required. However, no recall existed and the mailer itself contained no recall information.

The complaint alleges that the mailer was deceptive and the dealers were in violation of the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, the Loan Advertising to Bankrupts Act, the Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act and the Illinois Administrative Rules on Motor Vehicle Advertising.

"These deceptive mailers purposely and unfairly targeted consumers who may have struggled at one time to manage their finances," Madigan said. "This lawsuit should send the message to auto dealers that my office won’t tolerate using deceptive marketing practices to lure unsuspecting consumers into risky loans."

Madigan's office and the Better Business Bureau reportedly received a total of 44 complaints in response to the campaign. The lawsuit seeks to prohibit the defendants from further use of the term "recall" in ads, offering coupons with sales agreements or advertising that a loan would be made to a consumer who has declared bankruptcy. It also demands restitution for consumers in the amount of $50,000 per violation, an additional $50,000 statutory civil penalty and a $10,000 civil penalty for each violation committed against a person over 65 years of age. Madigan has also asked the court to order the defendants to pay the costs of the investigation and court proceedings.

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