Atlanta Dealer Fined for Deceptive Practices

© 2005 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Winter 2005
Author: Carla Rautenberg
Pages 52-53

Atlanta Dealer Fined for Deceptive Practices
By Carla Rautenberg, DAS Special Correspondent

Want to talk to the owner of a garage door dealer doing business in ten states and 18 major metropolitan areas? Just try.

Although he is nowhere named on the Web site of America’s Choice Overhead Door Co., Peter Stephens owns the company. He’s hard to track down, though, and didn’t return our calls.

America’s Choice is just one of many Stephens operations, including AA Able Door Company. You remember AA Able. In Jan. 2002, Dateline NBC exposed their practices of gross overcharging for service work. Door & Access Systems reported that story in our spring 2002 issue.

$20,000 Fine

They say that bad pennies always turn up again. Now, the state of Georgia, in the form of the Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA), caught up with Stephens in 2004 and fined his Atlanta operation $20,000 for “unfair and deceptive practices.”

Following a consumer complaint about a company initially identified as “America’s Choice Discount Garage Door Service,” the Georgia OCA launched an investigation that apparently began in 2001. The OCA discovered that the telephone lines advertised in the company’s double-truck Yellow Pages ads were programmed to send all incoming calls to BellSouth switching centers, where the lines were forwarded to undisclosed, out-of-state locations.

Protecting the Public

“It’s pretty clear cut,” says Shawn Conroy, spokesperson for the Georgia OCA. “You have a situation where you have an ad in the Yellow Pages, and the number’s going to another state or another place that’s not representative of where you think it’s going.”

The practice of forwarding calls out of state violates provisions of Georgia state law specifically prohibiting “deceptive representations or designations of geographic origin in connection with goods or services.”

The Stephens case is significant from a consumer protection point of view for two main reasons, according to Conroy. “When you have an ad that’s in the Yellow Pages in the Atlanta area, it’s possibly going to be seen by four million people, so you have the potential for a big problem. Another challenge is that a Yellow Pages ad is going to be in there for awhile. It’s not going anywhere soon.”

Yellow Pages Deceptive Practices

In a report dated July 2, 2004, the Georgia OCA outlined its investigation of “Peter Stephens, d/b/a A AAA All State Door Company, Overhead Garage Door Services, Inc., America’s Choice Overhead Door Co. Inc., and America’s Alliance Overhead Door Corp.” The summary on the OCA’s Web site states that the company’s telephone directory ads:
· Misrepresented the identity of the business the consumer would contact in response to the ad;
· Misrepresented that the business had received a high rating from at least two consumer product rating groups, including Good Housekeeping;
· Misrepresented that the business is incorporated in Georgia;
· Misrepresented an affiliation with merchant companies, including Sears;
· Misrepresented that the business advertised is a local business;
· Failed to disclose the non-local address for the forwarded telephone numbers;
· Failed to honor the advertised price guarantees;
· Deceptively induced consumers with low misrepresented charges;
· Confused the consumer as to the business name by advertising in one name and billing in another name;
· Willfully violated the terms of a 2001 Assurance of Voluntary Compliance

As a result of these violations, the “Respondents” (Peter J. Stephens and his corral of companies) were ordered to make every reasonable effort to act in accordance with the requirements of the “Fair Business Practices Act of 1975,” and to pay a civil penalty of $20,000.

Prohibited Practices

The 2004 Civil Action specifically prohibits Stephens and America’s Choice from publishing or distributing advertisements that:

· “Use the phrase ’Rated #1 in Customer Service’ without identifying the business or entity providing the rating”—like this:

· “Use ‘licensed,’ ‘bonded,’ or ‘insured’ without identifying the entity or person who holds said credentials”—like this:

· “Use merchant logos, names or symbols without clearly identifying the purpose of the reference”—like this:

All of the examples illustrated above appeared in the America’s Choice double-truck ads in the 2004 edition of the greater Atlanta BellSouth Yellow Pages. They have been removed from his ads in the 2005 edition.

Georgia consumers are fortunate to have a forceful advocate in the form of their Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs. In other states, vague, unsubstantiated, and misleading advertising may remain the stock-in-trade of less-than-reputable garage door dealers.

Stephens’ Response?

What does Peter Stephens think of all this? Since he won’t return our phone calls, we don’t know.

More to the point, will a $20,000 fine deter deceptive behavior? Perhaps. But according to our sources, Stephens makes a cool $60,000 per week in the Atlanta market alone and recently bought a $325,000 2005 Mercedes Maybach.

Do the math.

Where Is He Now?

Stephens’ operations appear to be active in the following 18 cities:

Atlanta, Ga.
Chicago/North Shore, Ill.
Denver/Boulder, Colo.
Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas
Daytona Beach, Fla.
Houston, Texas
Jacksonville, Fla.
Las Vegas, Nev.
Minneapolis, Minn.
Orange County, Calif.
Orlando, Fla.
Phoenix, Ariz.
Sacramento, Calif.
San Antonio, Texas
San Diego, Calif.
Seattle, Wash.
St. Paul, Minn.
Tampa, Fla.

See his Web sites: