A Castlebar, Co. Mayo car dealer, James Hughes, has received a four month prison sentence, suspended for 2 years, and must pay €2,500 in costs to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) following his conviction on four charges of misleading consumers.
Mr Hughes, who was convicted at Castlebar Court, was charged with three counts of acting as a disguised trader and one count of providing a consumer with false information about the mileage of a car, all of which are breaches of consumer protection law. The conviction was the result of an extensive investigation by the CCPC. This is the first conviction in Ireland for a business disguising their trader status.
Commenting, Isolde Goggin, Chairperson of the CCPC said: “Misleading a consumer is a very serious offence. This conviction is a strong reminder to all traders that you must not mislead your customers, either through hiding your status as a business or by providing consumers with false information about the history of a car, which is not only costly but can be dangerous. If traders fail to provide complete and accurate information they are liable to a criminal prosecution.”
Consumer law requires traders to be transparent and provide correct and full information to enable consumers make their purchases on a fully informed basis and to exercise their consumer rights when necessary. If a consumer buys from a trader they have strong rights by law.
A trader cannot falsely claim or create the impression that they are acting in a personal rather than a business capacity. If a car dealer does not disclose that they are selling the car in the course of their business, they may be guilty of engaging in a disguised trader sale, which is against the law. Omitting or concealing material information, such as supplying a false odometer reading may also be considered a misleading commercial practice under consumer protection law.
Ms Goggin continued: “Although this is Ireland’s first conviction for a business acting as a disguised trader, the CCPC has taken numerous enforcement actions against motor traders who have misled consumers about the history or mileage of a car. As is evident by this and by previous convictions the CCPC is and will continue to be very active in this sector. This investigation started with a consumer contacting us and I would encourage any consumer who believes that they have been misled by a motor trader, or indeed any trader, to contact us through our website ccpc.ie.”
Even though consumer protection legislation places requirements on traders, consumers should always be proactive themselves and ensure that they seek the relevant information and do the necessary checks to ensure they are getting what they pay for. The CCPC’s website provides information, including a helpful checklist, to assist consumers when they are buying a second hand car.
Investigation & Conviction Background
A consumer bought a 05 Ford Focus from James Hughes on 22 March 2016 for €2,180 in cash. The consumer subsequently discovered there was an issue with the mileage of the car. This was recorded on the NCT certificate of the car which showed a higher mileage reading for the car in April 2015 (205,000 kms) than the reading which was recorded in March 2016 (161,000 kms). There was a difference of some 44,000 kms. There were also a number of mechanical faults with the car which the consumer was required to repair at their own cost. The consumer was subsequently advised by a garage that the car was not roadworthy and ceased driving the car on this basis.
The consumer contacted the CCPC in September 2017. Following an investigation by Authorised Officers of the CCPC, a number of other issues with the manner in which James Hughes conducts his car selling business came to light. This included his practice of marking himself as a “private” seller on the DoneDeal.ie classifieds advertising platform. This activity breaches Section 55 of the Consumer Protection Act 2007 as he is presenting himself to consumers as a private seller rather than a trader who is active in the car selling business.
Mr Hughes was convicted of four charges – three were disguised trader offences – under Section 56 of the Consumer Protection Act 2007 and one for selling a clocked car to the consumer – under Section 47 of the Consumer Protection Act 2007. Mr Hughes received a 4 month prison sentence, suspended for 2 years and was told by Judge Fiona Lydon at Castlebar Court “not to act as a private seller and to register J Motors with the CRO”. Prior to the sentencing he had paid €2,610 compensation to the consumer and was ordered to pay €2,500 in costs to the CCPC as part of the terms of the suspended sentence.