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Car Dealer Promises To End 'Scratch-And-Win' Mailers

Car Dealer Promises To End 'Scratch-And-Win' Mailers

By Jennifer Kraus. CREATED Mar 14, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A Middle Tennessee car dealership is promising to make changes in the way it attracts customers.

This comes after NewsChannel 5 Investigates raised questions about a mailer that the Clarksville dealer sent to thousands of people.

Still, the Tennessee Attorney General's Office has questions about that mailer.

At least one man claimed that the contest inside the mailer was misleading. He was certain he'd won a big prize. But when he went to the dealership to claim that prize, he discovered it was nowhere near as big as he thought it would be.

Mark Galarza can't understand why he's not a $20,000 winner.

After all, he said, when he played the "scratch-and-match to win" game he received in the mail, he got three $20,000 in a row.

But when he went to claim his prize, instead of the cash, Galarza got a single lottery ticket.

"I was very upset and angry," Galarza told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

Gary Mathews Volkswagen-Kia in Clarksville sent out some 50,000 of these mailers with the scratch-and-win game to promote its recent vehicle clearance event.

The mailer said, "If you match 3 in a row, you are a winner of one of the listed prizes." Those prizes: a car, the $20,000, a Gator, a flat-screen TV, or "up to" $1,500 in lottery tickets.

"I matched $20,000 three times," Galarza explained.

He said that he even called the contest hotline number shown on the mailer to confirm his prize.

"When I gave him (employee answering the contest hotline) the numbers, he said 'you're a winner,'" Galarza recalled.

But when he got to the Gary Mathews dealership, Galarza said employees there told him that every mailer had that same winning combination and that it was really the activation code on back that determines the prize.

"It is misleading if they're telling me that I did not win -- because, the way I read it 50 times, you know, I had won $20,000," Galarza said.

Jeff Hill, senior counsel with the Tennessee Attorney General's Office, looked at the mailer and said he could understand Galarza's confusion.

"I'd think most people would look at that and say I won $20,000," Hill said.

He added that when a business sends out something like the mailer, the law says the prizes and terms of the contest need to be very clear.

Just last year, the AG's Office went after the Gary Mathews dealership in Nashville for sending out a very similar mailer, calling it deceptive marketing.

The state said the ad failed to include enough information about the prizes, featured vehicles not available, and financing deals that didn't exist. Gary Mathews did not agree to any wrongdoing, but paid a $10,000 settlement and agreed to change its marketing practices.

The ad that Mark Galarza received does include more information about the prizes, but state attorney Hill told NewsChannel 5 Investigates, "There are a lot of things that in this ad raise more questions to me than answer questions."

Gary Mathews Kia turned down requests for an interview, but said in a statement that "we go to a lot of effort to be sure that our advertising clearly displays our offers at all times in compliance with all advertising laws and that all contest rules are printed clearly in the material.... Anyone who responded to the mailer received a gift and no one was subjected to any sales pressure of any kind." 

That's not the way however Mark Galarza remembered it.

"The whole time I was there, all they did was push on trying to get me to buy something that I'm not going to buy, that I don't need, that I can't afford," Galarza described.

He said he told the salesman at Gary Mathews that he was there not for a car, but the contest. He remembered being rather surprised by the reaction he got.

"The guy actually blinked at me, you know, kinda winked at me and said 'it's just a way to get people in here,'" Galarza said.

Gary Mathews' general manager also said in the statement that "we intend to take whatever efforts are necessary to see that we eliminate the confusion ... experienced in any future direct mail."

In fact, a spokesman told NewsChannel 5 Investigates late Friday that the dealership has decided to do away with this sort of scratch-and-win game and that any future mailings will not have any sort of contest like this in it. 

Meanwhile, the Attorney General's office says they will review the mailer and they are interested in hearing from anyone who got one and thought they'd won one of the big prizes and didn't. You can call the state Office of Consumer Affairs at 615-741-4737. 

Here's Gary Mathews VW-Kia's entire statement:

"Thank you for bringing to our attention that a consumer who received our direct mail piece was confused over whether she was or was not a "grand" prize winner.  We go to a lot of effort to be sure that our advertising clearly displays our offers at all times in compliance with all advertising laws and that all contest rules are printed clearly in the material.  In this instance the consumer was the winner of a lottery ticket, but not the grand prize.  All of the winning numbers are posted on a large board sitting on our showroom floor.  The advertising company will not give out the winning numbers over the telephone due to security reasons.  Anyone who responded to the mailer received a gift and no one was subjected to any sales pressure of any kind.  We intend to take whatever efforts are necessary to see that we eliminate the confusion your consumer experienced in any future direct mail."

Back to NC5 Investigates: Consumer Alert
NewsChannel 5 Investigates

Jennifer Kraus

Jennifer Kraus

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Jennifer Kraus is NewsChannel 5's Weekend Morning Anchor and a member of NewsChannel 5's award-winning Investigative Team.