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State claims Indianapolis-based company tricked consumers with $5,000 cash prize

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- A complaint filed by the Indiana Attorney General's Office claims a marketing company unfairly deceived consumers by making them think they won a $5,000 cash prize.

According to the complaint, Dealer Direct Service, or DDS, sent direct mail advertising to nearly 200,000 Indiana consumers on behalf of Shaver Preferred Motors in Merrillville and Jobeta Automotive Group in Indianapolis. CBS4 Problem Solvers has learned that Jobeta has since closed down.

Direct mail advertising for car dealerships is a common practice, but under Indiana law it must contain certain fine print. Betsy DeNardi, Director of Consumer Protection for the Indiana Attorney General's Office, said that the mailers DDS sent out did not include all the necessary language and made people think they won $5,000 and needed to go to a dealer event to claim it.

"They were led to believe that they were going to receive one prize and they did not receive that prize," DeNardi said.

Instead, the complaint said the consumers had to listen to a sales pitch and were given either a one-dollar scratch off lottery ticket or a voucher for a hotel stay, which was only available at certain times and in certain cities.

"They were deceived by the materials that they received," DeNardi said.

CBS4 Problem Solvers looked into Dealer Direct Service and found the company was once located in South Bend, Indiana. It's now operating out of an Indianapolis office, and some employees said they were not paid this week.

By phone, the company's owners said those employees broke into the business and stole paperwork. When asked about the state's investigation, owner Dave Billman denied any wrongdoing.

DeNardi said if you get a mailer that says you have won a prize, you should be sure it includes the name of the marketing company that created it, as well as fine print about the strings that are attached to that so-called prize.

"Right next to it, they’re supposed to list your odds of winning and the retail price for that prize," DeNardi said.

DDS will have time to respond to the complaint.

DeNardi encouraged any consumers who believe they have been deceived by a direct mail advertising campaign to file a complaint with the Attorney General's Office.

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