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LOS ANGELES—California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr., in conjunction with the Los Angeles Department of Consumer Affairs (LADCA), today announced a million-dollar settlement with Wisconsin-based Hy Cite Corporation, which was investigated for using discriminatory business practices and false advertising in the sales of its high-priced Royal Prestige cookware to California consumers. This is the Attorney General’s second settlement agreement with Hy Cite Corporation for similar consumer fraud tactics.
“Hy Cite’s sales approach has been to scare people into buying high-priced pots and pans by telling customers that the cookware in their own home was unsafe,” said Attorney General Brown. “We won’t tolerate this type of predatory consumer marketing in California. This settlement will put an end to Hy Cite’s bogus chemical tests and predatory lending terms and ensure that the company treats its customers fairly and honestly.”
Hy Cite Corporation sells high-priced cookware targeting Latino consumers and neighborhoods through in-home demonstrations. Hy Cite’s salespeople allegedly lied their way into people’s homes by telling consumers that they had won a prize or by asking them to participate in opinion polls. Once in consumers’ homes, the salespeople often used high-pressure sales tactics and deception to convince consumers to buy the expensive cookware. Salespeople scared consumers into believing that cookware made of non-stick materials or aluminum would make them sick, claiming that Royal Prestige’s stainless steel cookware was safer to use.
To convince consumers of their claims, Hy Cite representatives would routinely perform bogus “tests” on the victim’s cookware, heating a mixture of baking soda and water in non-stick or aluminum pans, creating a bad-tasting paste through the resulting chemical reaction. The representatives claimed that toxic chemicals were transferred into the family’s food, making the consumer’s existing cookware unsafe for their families.
In many cases, consumers were convinced to finance their purchases through the company’s financing plan, but were misled to believe that the percentage rate was lower than the 20% or more financing rate they were charged. Many people who were scared into buying the products were unable to afford them, fell behind on their payments, and faced collection calls and damage to their credit rating.
During the investigation, the Attorney General’s office found that the company had developed two separate credit structures for customers, based on the customer’s ethnicity. Hy Cite’s “Anglo” customers were offered 90-day payment deferral, contract cancellation, and the use of post-dated checks. These options were not offered to Hy Cite’s Hispanic customers.
After receiving several consumer complaints about the company’s predatory sales practices, the Attorney General’s office began its investigation in March 2007.
This is California’s second settlement with the Hy Cite Corporation for consumer marketing fraud. In 2000, the California Attorney General’s office reached a settlement agreement with Hy Cite Corporation, in which the company agreed to drastically reform its business practices, pay restitution and civil penalties to victims of its predatory sales tactics, and honor a permanent injunction from engaging in these actions in the future.
Under the current settlement, Hy Cite and several of its top executives agreed to pay $1 million as restitution to consumer victims, plus penalties and costs to the Attorney General and LADCA. In addition to these penalties, Hy Cite has agreed to hire an independent monitor for three years to conduct in-depth interviews with future consumers of Hy Cite products. The judgment also sets forth strict requirements on what its salespeople can say to convince consumers to listen to a sales presentation and what can be said during the sales presentation itself.