Last week, Attorney General Letitia James announced that Star Toyota of Bayside used “fraudulent, deceptive and unlawful” practices to sell and finance used cars to the Chinese-speaking community, many of whom were not familiar with car-selling practices and lacked English language skills.
“Stealing from our immigrant communities by taking advantage of language barriers is not only illegal, but downright shameful,” James said in a statement. “New York values its immigrant communities, and we will not stand idly by while they are targeted.”
According to James, Star Toyota advertised in Chinese-language publications to invite customers to meet with the dealership’s Chinese-speaking sales team. The staff then built relationships and trust with customers.
But the attorney general’s office found that the dealership had unsuspecting customers sign contracts to purchase their cars at a higher cost than they agreed to during Chinese-language negotiations.
The sales representatives also added to the customers’ total costs by adding after-market products, such as supplemental warranties and theft insurance policies, without the customers knowledge or consent, which is a practice called “jamming.”
The investigation found that the dealership often did not provide buyers with copies of their sales or lending contracts. James’s office said Star Toyota regularly submitted inflated or made up personal financial information to their lenders to secure loans that customers had a hard time repaying.
The sales team would also take advantage of the customers by demanding tips, or taking cash for expenses that were already included in the transaction.
According to James’s office, the initial consumer complaints came from Congresswoman Grace Meng’s office.
“Taking advantage of customers, particularly those with limited English proficiency, is unconscionable and shameful,” Meng said in a statement. “Unfortunately, this is not uncommon in immigrant communities where cultural and language barriers exist.
“But these cases should serve as a warning to others who seek to swindle individuals out of their hard-earned money,” she added. “Ripping off customers will not be tolerated and those who do will face the consequences of their actions.”
New York Supreme Court Justice Richard Latin signed a consent order to resolve the allegations. The order awards $100,000 in civil penalties to the state, and $186,655 in restitution to 21 customers.
A notice of the settlement will be publicized in local Chinese publications to allow more claimants to come forward with a claim within the 90-day window.
“It’s truly reprehensible that a car dealer would use the native language of hardworking, trusting consumers to prey on and cheat them out of hard-earned money,” State Senator John Liu said in a statement. “Unfortunately, this is not the first time we have worked on this scam, but hopefully it will be the last thanks to the vigorous efforts of Attorney General Letitia James.”