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Recognizing Marketing Deception (Fraud?) Before Becoming a Victim
Lately I’ve been hearing a certain radio commercial bombarding a NYC subway news station that I like to listen to. The reason I like this station is simple: It’s intelligent, interesting, and airs John Sterling/Susan Waldman Yankee commentary during the games of the season.
However, this particular radio ad seems to me to be so full of misleading marketing language that every time it plays, I hit the brush. Not only does this bring my profession into disrepute, it could trick thousands of resourceful consumers into signing up and falling victim to what I consider almost a scam. But too skillfully manipulative for that, it probably can’t even be found guilty of fraud, since every statement is true. But unsuspecting listeners are undoubtedly misled into interpreting these “true” claims as a good reason to respond to the ad and commit to the advertised service, only to later discover the naivety of their gullible decision.
Let me explain: The ad starts off with an authoritative tone that claims it can save American car owners thousands of dollars in auto repair bills. As long as your car has less than 200,000 miles (which most people do), you’ll never have to pay an out-of-pocket auto repair bill again! The advertiser pays for it for you. If you’re tired of spending your hard-earned money on auto repairs, call and see if you qualify! (This puts the onus on you to prove that you are one of the eligible less than 200,000 mile car owners who can use this ad scam to get you to buy.)
You can even leave your mechanic or your auto repair shop and let the advertiser pay the bills for you. It includes all the most advanced auto repair technology you could ever need! (Again, this is said to throw you off course, to make you wonder what repairs your car may need now or in the future, and whether you qualify.) So far, everything they’ve said except “save you”. thousands of dollars” has been true. That is, as long as you read between the lines.
No, you won’t be spending your hard-earned money on a car repair bill. Instead, you spend your hard-earned money to pay them to represent you and pay the auto repair bill for you. And while they claim you can save a lot of money, you may actually end up paying more if you turn them into intermediaries. After all, they are in business to make money. They don’t do it for nothing. And how can they pay for those expensive radio ads on such a powerful New York station? Only through responses from hundreds of unsuspecting customers who sign up in droves.
So what do you get out of it? There might be a lot of problems if you sign a contract and don’t pay a fee, and who knows what else! They will probably give you the impression that they are giving you great service by guaranteeing that they will pay for the repairs on your old car (less than 200,000 miles) which will allow you to drive and hopefully go to work (if you still have one). work) while they wait for you to cover the bill with (perhaps late) interest!
I assume all the finer details, but you can see the risks I’m pointing out. I remember hearing about a similar scam attempt by another car payment company in the last couple of years that was distributed by mail. I later received several telemarketing calls about it. Now I hear this advertisement of another company on the radio. Could it be the same organization just operating under a different name? And ironically, as quickly as I recognized it, I suddenly don’t hear it anymore, which may also be part of their formula: launch it for a short period of time to get new customers and then disappear into thin air, so to speak. I ask these questions because I am naturally suspicious of marketing claims that raise these types of red flags.
The concept is very similar to that of a credit card: you pay with plastic and then pay the credit card company with interest for their generosity in allowing you to pay over time. But we all know the enormous danger that as a nation and a world harbors intractable economic problems everywhere you look! If you’re one of those unfortunate people who’s lost the privilege of using some or all of your many credit cards, this ad for a car repair payment service might sound pretty tempting, especially when old Bertha makes a terrible noise and puts your commute in jeopardy. But I strongly suggest treading carefully and carrying a big stick.
So what are the laws about deceptive advertising anyway? According to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Bureau of Consumer Protection, there are three attributes that determine whether an ad is false or unfair:
1. If it violates public order;
2. If it is immoral, unethical, oppressive or dishonest; or,
3. if it significantly harms consumers.
This last point is considered the most important when considering whether an advertisement is false or unfair, since the customer’s injury is usually based on losing money as a result of a purchase that would never have been made if the advertisement had not been misleading. False statements are determined by whether they are false at face value; or whether they are implicitly false. In my opinion, the radio ad above may be making a patently false claim by saying that it can save you huge amounts of money by using their service. However, with a clever interpretation, this statement can be considered true if they believe that your savings will come directly from the payments to the auto repair dealers.
If you don’t pay your mechanic directly you essentially save this money for your car repair. However, you need to use the money you save on an auto repair payment company that will pay your mechanic for you, no matter how deceptively they advertise their service. Does this seem ethical to you? Also, I believe the ad says “may save you” and not “will save you” which means there may be other conditions that you need to meet to ensure they fulfill their claim as stated.
A few consistent themes emerge from complaints received by the FTC, most often about undisclosed costs and terms. Responsible radio advertisers avoid legal problems by simply adding a statement such as “Restrictions may apply,” while some overzealous advertisers devote a large percentage of radio advertising time to detailing long disclosures delivered at warp speed, making it virtually impossible to understand what is being said. Depending on the space available, the FTC recommends that advertisers using visual media disclose details “clearly and prominently.” If space is limited, the 3-word disclaimer mentioned earlier may suffice, but tiny type and deliberately ambiguous terminology are frowned upon.
What the FTC allows or regulates appears to be somewhat of a gray area, with decisions depending on whether the ad is national or regional in scope; whether it represents an industry regulated by another branch of government (eg, airlines, banks, insurance companies, common airlines, and companies that sell securities and commodities); or whether it can be handled by another, more local agency, such as the Better Business Bureau. As stated earlier, the most important issues for the FTC appear to be those related to consumer injury, whether “health, safety, or wallet.”
Penalties for non-compliance can be severe, ranging from a simple cease-and-desist order that, if not properly complied with, increases to $16,000 per day for further violations; fines in the millions of dollars where appropriate, sometimes requiring refunds to consumers affected by the infringing ad; to run new ads and contact buyers to correct previously misleading information.
If you have been harmed in any way by advertising as a result of fraudulent activity, you have the right to file a complaint with the FTC and contact an attorney. If the offending ad is far-reaching enough, your case may be considered suitable for a class action involving many plaintiffs besides yourself. Remember, however, that no matter how noble your attorneys’ representation may seem in such cases, it is the attorneys who benefit the most in class action lawsuits.
What if you think your competitor’s ad is deceptive? You have a few options, some or all of which you can use.
1. You may want to contact an attorney to see if you should sue for unfair competition by making deceptive claims in advertising.
2. You may file a complaint with the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, which investigates and resolves such disputes at both the national and regional levels.
3. If the ad is local, you can contact your local Better Business Bureau to file a complaint.
4. You may contact the print or broadcast media where the ad was placed to report your suspicions that the ad is deceptive.
5. You can contact your state attorney general or your city, county or state consumer protection agency to report a problem.
6. Finally, you may contact the Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Response Center, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580; or call: toll-free 1-877-FTC-HELP.
If you’re an advertiser who uses techniques of obfuscation, or worse, duplicity, to hide the full truth of your message, keep this in mind.
“The bitterness of poor quality lingers long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.” -Benjamin Franklin
Translation: An unhappy customer not only shares their unpleasant experience with their friends and family, but also spreads the bad word about you on blogs, forums, and chat rooms, giving your company a negative reputation that you can never live up to. today’s Google-dominated universe. If your ad was unintentional, it’s much cheaper to try to win back the loyalty of one disgruntled customer with a valid complaint than to try to endure the devastating winter of their dissatisfaction.
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