When marketers promise free gas as sales promotions, it might be wise to view their promises with a bit of skepticism. New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo is suing a Florida-based marketing company for employing a deceptive promotion involving free gasoline cards that actually was a rebate scheme with nearly impossible conditions.
Cuomos Office is suing Tidewater Marketing Global Consultants, Inc., headquartered in Clearwater, Florida, and President Crystal M. Clark for repeatedly deceiving consumers through a promotional free gas gift card program in order to generate business for several New York-based companies.
The Attorney Generals office began investigating the company earlier this year after Cuomo put a stop to similar deceptive promotions being run by Tidewater at a Skaneateles auto dealership. The Attorney Generals lawsuit seeks to bar Tidewater from operating in New York State, restitution for wronged consumers, and penalties and costs to the state.
This company chose to disregard important consumer protections that exist in New York and instead engage in a deliberately deceptive scheme, Cuomo said. Consumers who thought they were taking part in a free promotion instead ended up shelling out hundreds of dollars in order to get their free gas.
Since at least February of 2008, Tidewater Marketing, which also does business as Free Gas Central, Freegasredemption.com, FreeBeeGas.com, and FreeBieGas.com, touted itself as a redemption center for various marketing programs, including vacation packages, rebate offers and -- most notably -- gas gift card programs on behalf of various businesses across the country. These businesses -- primarily car dealerships -- offered gasoline certificates to customers as marketing tools, supposedly allowing the customer to redeem the certificate for free gasoline gift cards.
In reality, many consumers never received the cards despite repeated inquiries to the company. Cuomo said the rebate program also had unreasonable conditions that were nearly impossible to meet.
For example, for a consumer to fully redeem a $500 gasoline redemption certificate through Tidewater, a consumer would have to spend at least $2,000 at a local gas station over the course of 20 months in order to fully redeem a $500 gasoline redemption certificate through Tidewater (the redemption would be in the form of 20 $25 gas gift cards).
In West Virginia this month, Attorney General Darrell McGraw has taken action against two car dealers, winning their agreement to make good on promises of free gas they made to consumers. Both had placed requirements on the consumers to get the free gas.
"It is unlawful to advise consumers that they will receive a free gift and tie any other requirements to the receipt of the gift," McGraw said. "All the hoops consumers had to jump through to get their free gas were stated in the fine print a clear violation of the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act.