A group of Alaska car dealerships advertised vehicles for sale that they did not actually have and, in some cases, did not honor the advertised price for vehicles, according to a state lawsuit.
The Department of Law said its civil filing Wednesday against the companies that own Swickard dealerships in Anchorage and Palmer started with three customer complaints to the state’s Consumer Protection Unit in late 2022 and early 2023. That included one from an investigator with the unit who, acting in a private capacity, had been trying to buy a vehicle for himself.
There are four Washington state-based Swickard companies named in the lawsuit doing business in Alaska — selling Buick, Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC, Audi, Porche, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz vehicles.
According to the lawsuit, representatives with Swickard claimed that two of the false advertisements had been published by accident and said a third was accurate, but that “a single, overzealous salesperson refused to honor it.”
Then, the state brought in undercover investigators who experienced similar problems with Swickard, Assistant Attorney General John Haley said.
“What happened here is, not only were there those complaints, but then the undercover checks just kept revealing the same thing over and over again,” Haley said.
The lawsuit alleges it was part of Swickard’s business model to post the false advertisements and get potential customers to come into the dealership, so salespeople could sell them a different vehicle at a higher price or a vehicle with expensive add-ons, like extra warranties.
Swickard disputed those claims in an emailed statement Thursday, saying the company believed the three customer complaints mentioned in the lawsuit had been resolved.
“There is clearly a misunderstanding between us and the Attorney General’s office,” wrote Kerry Myers, Swickard’s marketing director. “We are hoping to have a conversation with the Attorney General’s office to gain understanding of the concerns outlined.”
The concerns are detailed in the lawsuit, which seeks penalties of $25,000 per alleged violation, with the total number of violations to be determined in court, as well as an injunction to stop what the state described as Swickard’s deceptive business practices.
And the point is not just to punish Swickard, said Haley, the assistant Attorney General.
“I think that if there are other car dealers that are doing this and we just haven’t heard about it, or if there are other car dealers that might be thinking about doing this in the future, I do think that this lawsuit’s likely to deter them from doing that,” Haley said. “There are a lot of reasons why you wouldn’t want to be sued by the Attorney General’s office.”