If Det. Columbo were an auto dealer, his appointed compliance officer would have a long list of items to check. 
 - Photo courtesy MCA Universal

If Det. Columbo were an auto dealer, his appointed compliance officer would have a long list of items to check.

Photo courtesy MCA Universal

Car folks certainly remember the old TV detective show “Columbo.” Peter Falk won four Emmys in the title role, but, at least for car buffs, Columbo’s 1959 Peugeot 403 Cabriolet took a star turn as well.

Falk’s Columbo was seemingly inept and disorganized, but those traits disguised a shrewd and incisive mind. One of his ploys was to seemingly finish a skewering questioning of the bad guy (and you knew who the bad guy was because the show used a formula called an “inverted mystery,” for which the perp was known from the start and the mystery was how Columbo would nail the guy) and then, as he was walking out the door, turn and say to the suspect, “Oh, Mr. Jones, just one more thing …” The “one more thing” always proved to be a zinger of a question.

I have no idea why, but this seemed like a good model for a conversation between a dealership manager we’ll call Columbo and his newly hired, smart, but inexperienced compliance officer, whose name, of course, is Green. The conversation went something like this:

Columbo: OK, Green, we’ve hired you as our compliance, Red Flags, and privacy officer. My first job for you is to take over the review of the dealership’s advertising. I’ve been doing that job, but, from now on, it’s going to be your responsibility.

Green: Sure, Mr. Columbo. I’ll get right on it. I’ll check our print, radio, and TV ads, all the signs on the lot and in the showroom, and all our internet and social media programs against the federal Truth in Lending Act and Consumer Leasing Act advertising requirements. I know about the TILA and CLA rules on “triggering terms,” so I’ve got a head start on that part. [Green turns and heads toward the door.]

Columbo: Green, one more thing. While you’re at it, you ought to check the Federal Trade Commission’s website. The FTC’s got some really good business education materials on advertising, including social media advertising. The agency’s also brought a number of enforcement actions against car dealers, alleging that particular ad content violates federal law. You’ll want to look at those.

Green: Sure, Mr. Columbo. I’ll get right on it. [Green turns and gets just outside the door.]

Columbo: Green, one more thing. Certain federal laws apply to our advertising or marketing to customers via email or text messages. If we are sending marketing emails or texts to customers, those special laws might apply. Be sure you don’t miss those.

Green: Sure, Mr. Columbo. I’ll get right on it. [Green turns and gets just outside the door.]

Columbo: Green, one more thing. Certain federal laws apply to telephone sales activities. Those phone solicitations are, in a way, advertising. Be sure that our calling activities are legal.

Green: Sure, Mr. Columbo. I’ll get right on it. [Green turns and gets just outside the door.]

Columbo: Green, one more thing. Remember to check state ad laws that apply to car dealers. Sometimes you’ll find those in the DMV regulations. Add those to your list.

Green: Sure, Mr. Columbo. I’ll get right on it. [Green turns and gets just outside the door.]

Columbo: Green, one more thing. Sometimes those state advertising laws apply to all retailers, regardless of what they are selling. Make sure you don’t miss those.

Green: Sure, Mr. Columbo. I’ll get right on it. [Green turns and gets just outside the door.]

Columbo: Green, one more thing. Sometimes state advertising laws apply only to ads of a certain type. An example of those are laws that apply to lotteries or games of chance. If we are running any ads that might fit into those categories, those special laws might apply.

Green: Sure, Mr. Columbo. I’ll get right on it. [Green turns and gets just outside the door.]

Columbo: Green, one more thing. Most states, including ours, have a law that prohibits unfair and deceptive acts and practices. Those laws can apply to our advertising. Make sure you know how our state’s courts and regulators interpret and enforce those laws.

Green: Sure, Mr. Columbo. I’ll get right on it. [Green turns and gets just outside the door.]

Columbo: Green, one more thing.

Green: Yes, boss?

Columbo: Don’t forget to check with NADA and our state dealer association. They are both likely to have a lot of helpful information on advertising, and that stuff is usually free, or nearly free.

Green: Sure, Mr. Columbo. I’ll get right on it. [Green turns and gets just outside the door.]

Columbo: Green, one more thing.

Green: Yes, boss?

Columbo: Bring me a cup of coffee, two sugars, black.

Thomas B. Hudson Esq. was a founding partner of Hudson Cook LLP and is now of counsel in the firm’s Maryland office. He is the CEO of CounselorLibrary.com LLC and is a frequent speaker and writer on a variety of consumer credit topics. Contact him at [email protected] HC No. 4814-8959-6301.1

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