Some local car buyers are getting refund checks in the mail

If you bought a vehicle from Passport Auto Group in recent years, you could be getting some money back in the form of a check in the mail.

The Federal Trade Commission said this week that it was mailing out more than 18,000 checks to Passport customers.

Anyone who receives a check is encouraged to cash it within 90 days.

Passport, a car dealership with nine locations in Maryland and Virginia, agreed to settle a case with the FTC late last year in federal court.

The agency had accused Passport of deceiving customers by tacking on illegal “junk fees” onto car prices.

“When consumers attempt to purchase particular inspected, reconditioned or certified vehicles for the prices advertised, Passport charges them additional hundreds to thousands of dollars in fees, resulting in consumers paying more than the advertised prices to purchase the vehicles or negating any later discounts they negotiate,” the FTC said.

They also said that Passport told customers they needed to pay extra fees for inspection, reconditioning, preparation and certification.

However, “Passport already includes the costs of inspection, reconditioning, preparation and certification in its advertised prices. Thus, Passport is double charging consumers,” the FTC said.

Passport also allegedly discriminated against Black and Latino customers by forcing them to pay higher financing costs and fees.

The FTC claimed that Black and Latino customers had to pay, on average, more than $291 and $235 in interest, respectively, when compared to white customers.

“Passport received letters from a finance company — one in June 2019 and another in June 2020 — notifying it of statistically significant differences in the markup rates charged to Black borrowers at two separate Passport dealerships,” the FTC said.

Any customers who receive refund checks and have questions are urged to check out the FTC’s website.

“FTC court orders typically require the defendants to provide a list of customers, along with their contact information, and how much they paid,” according to the FTC’s website. “If we do not have all the information we need to send refunds, we may request that consumers file a claim.”

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Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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