What to Know
- The dealerships are Passport Toyota, Passport Nissan of Alexandria, and Passport Nissan of Marlow Heights.
- The dealerships are accused of sending out more than 21,000 fake recall notices in 2015 and 2017.
- Passport said it didn't intend to mislead customers, only to find vehicles with open recalls.
A group of car dealerships in the D.C. region is accused of sending thousands of fake “urgent recall” notices to lure customers to visit dealerships.
The dealerships are Passport Toyota, Passport Nissan of Alexandria and Passport Nissan of Marlow Heights. Everett A. Hellmuth, III is the founder and president of the dealerships and Jay. A. Klein is their vice president.
The dealerships have settled the claims from the Federal Trade Commission. According to a press release from the FTC, the court order bars the company from “such deceptive conduct in the future.”
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The dealerships are accused of sending out more than 21,000 fake recall notices in 2015 and 2017. The vast majority of the vehicles covered by the notices did not have open recalls, the FTC said.
According to the complaint, a California-based marketing firm designed the fake recall notices and worked closely with the dealerships to send them. The marketing company also agreed to the settlement.
After receiving the recall notices, hundreds of vehicle owners contacted Passport’s call centers, the FTC said. Many of them were told they had to go to the dealerships to learn whether their vehicle was actually subject to a recall.
Passport Automotive said it was not trying to mislead anyone.
"The advertisements were sent only because Passport was having serious problems identifying and fixing open recalls," Passport said in a statement. "This was largely because the manufacturer lists of unrepaired, open recalls were unavailable to Passport or other dealerships of those brands."
Passport said it was able to reach many car owners with open recalls through the notices. The group said it agreed to settle to avoid expenses of going to court.
If you get a recall notice in the mail, you can confirm that your vehicle is impacted by visiting safercar.gov and entering your VIN.
We reached out to the marketing firm. We are awaiting its response.