A flyer aimed at hooking would-be car buyers with a so-called "Canada Automotive Rebate Program" is causing anger, confusion and attracting the attention of advertising regulators.

The official-looking advertising mail-out sent by a Surrey auto dealership during tax time urges the recipient to "Act Now," promising to match the person's 2015 tax refund by up to $1,000 if funds are applied to the purchase of a new or used vehicle.

The program — set to expire March 31 — has one problem: it doesn't exist.

If the consumer can get a rebate, it would not come from the government.

Dodge Chrysler Jeep

The general manager of this auto dealership in Surrey says he wishes he'd never used a marketing campaign that capitalized on tax time. (CBC/Eric Rankin)

Consumer protection concerns

The Better Business Bureau said the flyer is a concern.

"The claims they are making and the logos they are using are not legitimate and are very misleading to the public," said Evan Kelly, senior communications spokesman for the Better Business Bureau of B.C.

Kelly said the real aim of the flyer is to get customers into the dealership "kicking tires and taking test drives."

"My reaction is this [flyer] feels disingenuous and misleading," said Kelly.

The general manager of Haley Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in Surrey says he wishes he had never sent it out. He calls the campaign a "complete disaster."

"In the month of March, we, Haley Dodge, participated in a marketing campaign run by an outside company. We trusted that the marketing company we used would be compliant with all rules and regulations set forth by Advertising Standards Canada but understand that, in this case, they were not." 

Canada Auto Rebate envelope

This envelope was sent to many homes from a South Surrey auto dealer. (CBC)

"We regret having participated in this campaign and have since made changes to our advertising efforts. We have ceased doing business with the marketer involved and would like to offer our sincere apologies for any upset that this has caused," Billy Dhaliwal the dealership's general manager wrote in a statement to CBC.

The dealership has received public complaints and warnings from the Advertising Standards Council of Canada. B.C.s Vehicle Sales Authority (VSA) investigated and rapped the company for:

  • Advertising a non-existent program named the Canada Automotive Rebate program.
  • Using the Canadian Flag.
  • Insinuating there was a refund available to the consumer.
  • Focusing on five postal code areas and demanding government identification, as if other postal code areas were restricted.
  • Using misleading wording that "time is running out."

Today the company was ordered to pay a $3,400 fine and comply with a list of undertakings including a review of advertising procedures and an audit of business records.

The U.S.-based company that created the marketing material refused to comment.

Look like a tax form

The envelope looks similar to a Canada Revenue Agency envelope with a Canadian flag in the corner.

"It looks like it is from the government. It's got the Canadian flag. It's got the brown envelope. It's very similar to the tax forms that we get," said Krista James of the Canadian Centre for Elder Law, an organization that works to educate seniors about legal issues and potential scams.

Evan Kelly BBB

The Better Business Bureau's Evan Kelly says the flyer makes claims and uses logos that are misleading. (CBC/Dillon Hodgin)

"We know that seniors get targeted a lot," said James who coaches them to be more savvy when they open the mail.

James encourages seniors to be suspicious and careful about sharing information like identification or tax assessment details.

"If [this flyer] is not illegal it feels a little unethical," said James.

She feels the flyer was aimed at capitalizing on tax time — and the high proportion of seniors in the postal code area where it was distributed.

Flyer angered people

People who received it often chucked it.

"I remember that flyer — it made me so mad. It was so misleading. I did look at it and then threw it away. It looked like it was a government endorsed program by the logo, but I knew [better]," said Surrey resident Tim Darcovich, who tore up the offending ad flyer.

Others chimed in on social media posting photos of the mail-out to warn others.

"I can see that people would get sucked in," said Darcovich.

The flyer from Haley Auto Group said in order to claim the benefit the person just had to go to their "participating dealer" and promised additional incentives to support the program totaling up to "$10,845!"

Krista James Elder Law

"If [this flyer] is not illegal, it feels a little unethical," said Krista James of the Canadian Centre for Elder Law. (CBC/Dillon Hodgin)