The challenges of working with customers who might not be fluent in English has cost a New York franchised dealership nearly $500,000.
New York attorney general Barbara Underwood recently announced a settlement requiring Bay Ridge Honda of Brooklyn to reform its business practices and pay more than $423,000 in restitution and penalties, after the office received dozens of complaints from New Yorkers about unwanted charges and fraudulent sales tactics that targeted non-English speakers.
The Empire State’s top law enforcement official indicated many of the consumers who complained were Mandarin and Cantonese speakers who negotiated their retail installment or lease contracts in Chinese but were only provided English documents that they later discovered contained different terms and unwanted and costly aftermarket items in their deals.
Under the settlement, Underwood obtained restitution for 47 known New Yorkers harmed by the dealership’s practices, as well as requirements that the dealership stop engaging in the alleged deceptive practices and modify employee training and the processing of consumer complaints.
Underwood added that Bay Ridge Honda will ensure future sales and lending documents are translated into the language the dealership conducts business in with consumers, prior to signing any documents in English.
“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.”
According to U.S. Census Data, approximately 4.3 million New Yorkers have a limited ability to read, speak, write or understand English fluently. In the New York City metro area alone, more than a third of people speak a language other than English at home; close to 200 different languages are spoken.
Underwood alleged that Bay Ridge Honda engaged in a variety of deceptive practices, misleading consumers about the true cost of their purchases — including unlawfully selling unwanted aftermarket items, such as supplemental service contracts, gap insurance policies, or special protections for tires, fabric, glass or paint that added thousands of dollars to the auto sale or lease contracts.
For example, when consumer Xui Fen Hong got her first bill, she saw that her contract was for a 72-month term, instead of 60 months as promised. Hong also found out and complained that she was paying more than $7,000 for aftermarket items the dealership’s staff never mentioned during her sale, which was conducted in Chinese.
The attorney general’s investigation also found that the dealership falsely promised to refinance consumers’ loans. For example, when consumers complained that the dealership had overcharged them or included unwanted extra aftermarket items in their contracts, dealership staff would falsely promise to refinance to a lower rate after a few months of payments.
Ultimately, the dealership did not honor these refinancing promises, according to Underwood.
Under the consent order, Bay Ridge Honda will refund $269,525 to the 47 known consumers. In addition to restitution, the dealership will also pay $153,648 in penalties, fees, and costs to the state.
Officials went on to note that the dealership agreed to refrain from engaging in all of the alleged deceptive business practices, as well as modifying its employee training and changing how complaints are processed and recorded.
Lastly, Underwood’s office said the dealership will produce sales and lending documents translated into every language in which the dealership conducts business with consumers, prior to signing any documents in English.