The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has sued the owner of a nationwide automotive marketing and sales firm for allegedly mailing bogus stimulus checks for $3,344 to lure people into buying used cars.
The defendants are David J. Jeansonne II and Traffic Jam Events LLC. The civil suit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in New Orleans.
Jeansonne is the owner, managing member and president of the company, which offers direct-mail marketing services and staffed tent-sales events to car dealers nationwide. It operates chiefly from Kenner, Louisiana, in suburban New Orleans, according to the suit.
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The defendants are accused of deceiving consumers in this manner since at least March, in violation of federal consumer-protection laws. They have been “unjustly enriched” by their “unlawful acts or practices,” the suit states.
At the FTC, Jim Kreidler wrote a blog post about the litigation, which asks the court to halt the defendants’ alleged schemes and order other relief.
Mock check for $3,344 mailed
"During these difficult economic times, scammers will do almost anything to try to get your money. Including, it turns out, making bogus claims about economic stimulus checks to lure consumers to auto sales events,” Kreidler, a consumer education specialist, wrote. He gave tips to avoid scams like these.
Court exhibits with the mailing in question show a $3,344.68 check issued by the “Stimulus Relief Program.” A memo on the check specifies it is tied to the “COVID-19 Auto Stimulus.”
But the CARES Act has no car-buying stimulus program. The federal law gives eligible individuals checks for $1,200 and married couples $2,400.
Despite what the defendants assert, consumers are not receiving important COVID-19 information in the mailings, the FTC's suit states. Nor are consumers getting stimulus relief or checks affiliated with the U.S. government, though the mailings feature a likeness of the great seal of the United States.
Car sale in central Florida targets buyers
Some consumers were mailed a notice about a “special COVID-19 Economic Automotive Stimulus Program with relief funds and other incentives” and directed to an address in Bushnell, Florida, a small city about 55 miles west of Orlando.
Potential victims were urged to claim their “stimulus incentive” at a temporary site in Bushnell over a 10-day period. But when people arrived, they found nothing but a lot hosting a car sale, according to the suit, which notes that neither Jeansonne nor Traffic Jam Events is affiliated with the government.
Dinged for deceptive ads before
The owner and his company were the targets of law enforcement actions for deceptive ad campaigns in 2010 and 2012 in Kansas and in 2018 in Indiana, according to the suit. On April 23, Florida's attorney general, Ashley Moody, sued the defendants over the deceptive mailers tied to COVID-19.
On its website, Traffic Jam Events lists its headquarters as in New Orleans and a national sales office in Tampa.
A man who answered the phone number for Traffic Jam Events on Wednesday said that Jeansonne was unavailable. Jeansonne did not respond to emails from AARP for comment.
"We make selling cars exciting again,” Traffic Jam's website boasts. The firm “stands apart from all the Backyard Barney ‘companies’ because we target your long-term profitability."
"If you want a professional 5-day sales event that generates a healthy 6-figure profit, you've just found it."
3 tips to outsmart scammers
The FTC offers this advice to steer clear of scams.
• Check out the company before you act when you get promotional mailers. Search online for the company name plus the words “scam,” “complaint” or “review.”
• Do not click on links in emails or text messages. If you do so, you could download malware onto your device and wind up on a site that’s after your personal information. Instead, if you’re worried about the message, look up the person or company that sent it. Then call or email using a number or address that turned up in your research — not those in the message.
• Say no to anyone who insists that you pay using a gift card, wire transfer or cryptocurrency. That’s how swindlers tell their victims to pay them, but a legitimate business will never require these payment methods.