$10.5 Million Settlement Against Retailer Curacao for Unlawfully Preying on Latino Consumers
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced a $10.5 million partial settlement against Curacao, resolving multiple allegations that the retail chain deceived and unlawfully profited from its largely Latino customer base. Curacao owns and operates nine department stores in Southern California and actively markets to low-income, immigrant Latino consumers. The settlement includes $10 million in debt relief for consumers who were harmed by Curacao's conduct. The settlement also includes additional debt forgiveness for customers who are still paying Curacao for unlawful small claims judgments, plus $500,000 in civil penalties. Importantly, the settlement includes injunctive terms requiring Curacao to comply with California law and treat its customers fairly and ethically.
“Curacao claimed to be part of Southern California’s Latino community. It then proceeded to defraud low-income individuals, Spanish speakers and immigrants with little or no experience entering into long-term financing contracts,” said Attorney General Becerra. “This company fleeced its own loyal customers who simply walked into its department store looking for a decent deal. Curacao will now have to pay for its bad practices and obey a court order that will make the company treat its customers fairly.”
“Immigrants in Los Angeles County, particularly those whose primary language is something other than English, face significant challenges every day. The least they can expect is to be treated fairly and lawfully by businesses that serve and market to them in their preferred language,” said Rafael Carbajal, Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. “We are pleased that the Attorney General has secured relief for consumers who need it most, and that we were able to play our part to help keep the marketplace fair for both consumers and businesses which properly follow the law.”
Today’s settlement against Adir International, the parent company of Curacao, and its owner Ron Azarkman resolves allegations that Curacao systemically violated California consumer protection laws when it lured consumers into its stores with deceptively-low interest rates and out-of-stock “sale” items, refused to sell items at advertised prices, and packed customer contracts with accessories, warranties, and installation services without the customer’s knowledge or consent. The settlement also resolves allegations that Curacao sold unlawful warranties and garnished customer’s wages after winning fraudulent default judgments against them in small claims court.
The Attorney General sued retailer Curacao in October 2017 following an investigation carried out in partnership with the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. The lawsuit alleged that Curacao lured in customers by advertising low prices and easy credit, then informed those consumers they could only buy at the advertised price after purchasing ancillary accessories, warranties, or installation services. In other cases, Curacao added items to payment contracts without their customer’s knowledge.
Curacao allegedly failed to inform customers about important terms in the contract before asking customers to sign and, in some cases, gave customers contracts in English even though they spoke only Spanish. When customers tried to return items to the store, they were often told that Curacao’s return policy – which was not previously disclosed to them – prevented Curacao from accepting the return, or resulted in Curacao charging an undisclosed “restocking” fee. The lawsuit also alleged that Curacao harassed customers, as well as their family members and employers, with repeated debt collection calls and letters.
The settlement also requires Curacao to provide additional consumer relief to consumers affected by unlawfully obtained small claims judgments. When consumers fell behind on payments and their accounts became delinquent, Curacao went after them in small claims courts but often failed to serve their former customers with the lawsuits as required by the law. The small claims courts then imposed default judgments against the consumers, who were often unaware that they had been sued.
The settlement is a stipulated judgment that resolves part of the state’s lawsuit against Curacao. Unresolved claims related to Curacao’s illegal payment protection plans and insurance practices will be tried in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Curacao has also agreed to injunctive terms which include but are not limited to the following:
Stores will prominently display a consumers’ bill of rights;
Curacao must sell items as they are advertised, and must provide additional disclosures in its advertising;
Senior management will review Curacao’s advertising for compliance with the court judgment;
Curacao must fully disclose all material contract terms before asking customers to sign contracts;
Curacao must provide customers with a contract in their language before asking them to sign;
Debt collection efforts will be limited to one phone communication per day with delinquent consumers;
Curacao will stop debt collection activities against, and clear the credit records for, consumers who had default judgments entered against them in unlawful small claims actions;
A corporate ethics expert will help Curacao create and maintain an effective sales incentive, compliance, and ethics program that incentivizes lawful behavior, and that includes annual ethical culture surveys and assessments; and
Curacao will regularly report its compliance to the Attorney General for several years and provide access to its records for review.
Today’s settlement is documented in a partial stipulated judgment available here.
Consumers do not need to file a claim. Under the terms of the partial judgment, Curacao must reach out directly to consumers who are eligible for restitution within the next 60 days.