BALTIMORE -- A two-month-old crackdown on deceptive car advertisements in Maryland has prompted some dealerships to alter their practices, but violations are still occurring, the attorney general's office said last week.
Some dealerships and ad agencies are contacting the state consumer protection division before running ads to ensure they do not violate state laws or regulations, said Peter Berns, an assistant attorney general.
"We are seeing some changes in advertising," Berns said. "But that is not to suggest that everything out there is acceptable now or is in conformance with the attorney general's advertising standards, because it still is not."
Additional employes have been brought on to help monitor the advertising practices of new car dealers, said William Leibovici, head of the consumer protection division.
The office has been monitoring television and newspaper ads by Maryland and out-of-state dealerships, Berns said.
The crackdown on deceptive advertising and sales practices began with a letter Attorney General J. Joseph Curran sent out at the end of September to all 425 licensed new car dealers in Maryland.
The letter cited 17 common violations of Maryland law and regulations dealing with car advertisements and sales, and asked dealers to voluntarily comply.
Berns said his division is notifying car dealerships when it spots ads that deviate from state standards.
Some violations are apparent on their face, but others depend on sales practices, Berns said.
One of the more flagrant violations occurs when car dealers offer to sell a car at some relatively low amount above invoice, such as $100, when it is actually $1,000 or $2,000, Berns said.
"Often times, the actual invoice does not reflect the final cost to the dealer," Berns said.
Most American auto makers give dealerships a rebate for each car they sell, and they must tell consumers about the rebate when showing them an invoice that does not reflect it, Curran said in his letter to dealers.
Dealers cannot claim to be factory outlets, advertise "no money down" deals and then require payment for tags, taxes or freight charges, or use small print to modify major claims in an ad, the letter said.