Talk about being taken for a ride.
A Bay Ridge car dealership will pay out more than $400,000 in restitution and penalties for overcharging and scamming non-English speaking customers, many of whom were Chinese, state Attorney General Barbara Underwood announced on July 5. The state’s top cop said Bay Ridge Honda — on Fourth Avenue at 88th Street — would pay the price for their alleged deceptive practices.
“We have zero tolerance for unscrupulous businesses that prey on immigrant communities and non-English speakers,” Underwood said. “This office will continue to protect the rights of all New Yorkers, of all backgrounds.”
Sales reps at the dealership scammed at least 47 customers — many of whom spoke Mandarin or Cantonese — by lying to them about the real costs of their purchases and tacking on thousands of dollars in extra charges for unwanted services, insurance policies, and special protections on both sale and lease contracts. Even though staff at the dealership negotiated the contracts in Chinese when applicable, they hid their deception in the English documents, which customers didn’t discover until after they received their bills, according to the attorney general’s office.
And when customers called out sales people at the dealership for overcharging them, dealership reps would falsely promise that they would refinance customers’ loans to a lower rate after a few months of payments, according to Underwood, which she said which they never did.
When one customer received her first bill from the dealership, she saw that her loan was for 72 months, instead of 60 as they had told her, according to Underwood’s office, which added that the customer also discovered she was paying more than $7,000 for services that the dealership staff never mentioned during the sales negotiation that was conducted in Chinese.
The dealership will pay more than $269,000 in restitution to the 47 customers it allegedly scammed, plus more than $153,000 in penalties to the state. Plus, the top brass at Bay Ridge Honda agreed to stop their alleged phony business practices, change both employee training and the process of recording complaints, and produce sales and lending documents translated into customers’ preferred language before they sign any English documents.
The president of the Brooklyn Chinese-American Association, based in Sunset Park, said the organization applauded Underwood’s investigation and urged the attorney general to continue looking into area businesses, adding that deceptive business dealings would likely continue as the Chinese population continues to grow.
“As the first Asian social services agency in the Brooklyn Sunset Park neighborhood for thirty years, BCA has witnessed, over and over, incidents in which members of the immigrant community are taken advantage of due to their unfamiliarity with business practice, culture and the language,” said Paul Mak. “BCA has dealt with many of these complaints and often act as intermediary with various government agencies. Sadly, as the Chinese community in Brooklyn continues to grow, incidents like those with Bay Ridge Honda will recur, with many in the community becoming preys to unscrupulous businesses. What we have seen is perhaps the proverbial tip of the iceberg.”
The owner and president of Bay Ridge Auto Group — which owns the Bay Ridge Honda dealership as well as the Volvo, Mazda, and Volkswagen dealerships on Fourth Avenue — said the nearly 60-year-old company cooperated with the attorney general’s investigation and that the complaints were an anomaly that did not reflect day-to-day and future conduct at the dealership.
“The complaints are not representative of the service we provide to our customers on a daily basis,” said Robert Sabbagh. “However, this matter has served to strengthen our resolve to provide the very best in customer service and to provide an honest and open car buying experience.”