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Hyundai of New Port Richey says it feels 'duped' by BBZ gas vouchers

To customers of Hyundai of New Port Richey: Perhaps the third time will be a charm.

Officials at the dealership discovered Thursday that they had been "duped" by a second marketing company that provided gas vouchers as incentives to New Port Richey Hyundai for those who bought cars.

Scott Fink, owner of the Hyundai dealership, said despite the latest troubles, his customers would be compensated for anything they were promised.

"We thought it was a good benefit," Fink said. "I'm sympathetic to the consumers."

Hyundai of New Port Richey is one of untold retailers that distributed a marketing incentive that offered as much $500 in free gas to consumers throughout the United States and Canada for buying cars, furniture and electronics or even for visiting a new store location, test-driving a car or participating in a fundraiser.

When consumers receive the vouchers, they must follow several steps to receive the benefit, including collecting $100 worth of gas receipts each month. After each set of monthly receipts, consumers receive a $25 gift card until reaching the voucher's full value — a process that takes 20 months for a $500 voucher.

Two marketing companies distributed most of the vouchers: Largo-Clearwater-based Tidewater Marketing Global Consultants and Arizona's BBZ Resource Management.

Hyundai of New Port Richey distributed vouchers from both companies to consumers, the first coming from Tidewater.

The state shuttered Tidewater's operations in February after determining that the company engaged in deceptive business practices and defrauded consumers by failing to deliver the promised gas cards.

A Palm Beach County company called American Sales Industries Inc. sold the Hyundai dealership Tidewater's vouchers. American Sales Industries later offered BBZ's vouchers at no cost to make up for the trouble.

Then BBZ's vouchers came into question.

American Sales Industries did not return repeated calls about the vouchers.

On Wednesday, the Better Business Bureau issued a warning to consumers and businesses that the agency had received complaints about BBZ from 40 states. Consumers complained BBZ did not deliver the cards.

The warning followed a lawsuit by a former partner of BBZ's that accused the company of engaging in a "Ponzi scheme" to defraud the public.

In addition, Oregon's Attorney General's Office said that it and several other attorneys general were investigating BBZ for fraud.

BBZ announced Wednesday that it was temporarily suspending sales of its incentive certificates while it evaluated "false statements" and "spurious legal claims."

BBZ is behind some 100,000 cards so far, dating to January. The Hyundai dealer's customers were set to begin receiving their vouchers June 30.

"There's no way we're going to do vouchers again," said Wendy Longley, whose company, the Longley Group, handles the Hyundai dealer's advertising.

Fink said he is reviewing how many customers are affected by the voucher program and would meet with Longley to determine how they might resolve the issue for consumers.

"I thought things were okay," Fink said. "Evidently they're not okay.

"We feel duped as well."

Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2332.

Hyundai of New Port Richey says it feels 'duped' by BBZ gas vouchers 06/25/09 [Last modified: Friday, June 26, 2009 8:18am]
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