Toyota ads appear to be working

mountain car Instead of pushing a boulder off a cliff onto his car, this Pennsylvania man apparently just pushed his car over the cliff. Granted, he’s accused of doing this prior to Toyota’s current ad campaign, but it’s just a matter of time before others get the same idea.

For more on our campaign to discourage Toyota from airing these ads, see the post below.

Sometimes defendants get lucky

That seems to be the case in Louisiana with Shreveport police officer Ron Small. Ron’s wife Tracey apparently was involved in the accident three days after her insurance lapsed, but quickly reinstated the policy after the crash.

Ron asked a fellow police officer to change the date on the accident report to make it appear the accident happened after the policy was reinstated, according to charges that were filed after their insurer investigated the accident.

So Ron and his wife were charged with fraud, but the case against Ron hinged on testimony from his fellow officer. This is were the lucky part comes in.

As prosecutors were building their case and getting ready for trial, the other officer — the state’s main witness — gets busted for soliciting sex from a woman involved in a drug bust.

Faced with putting this guy on the stand — and having his credibility skewered by Small’s lawyer, prosecutors decided to drop the charges against Ron and allow Tracey to plead guilty to a lesser charge of attempted theft. She was ordered to pay court cost of $163.

The couple escaped felony fraud charges that carried heavy penalties. But they probably don’t feel lucky seeing that Ron lost his job and they likely face sizable legal bills. Sometimes, though, that’s the price of stupidity.

Why Toyota is encouraging fraud

Toyota ad image The new Toyota commercials showing people dumping their cars so they can get new ones are amusing, clever and most likely very effective in marketing new cars. They also encourage fraud.

With more people than ever “upside-down” on their car loans — and already having an incentive to ditch their vehicles — subtle suggestions that it’s OK to take this drastic step doesn’t help.

No one believes that these commercials alone will entice car owners into criminal behavior. But there is a growing body of research that suggests an environment that tolerates acceptance of unethical behavior does influence some people to act unethically. And these commercials add to that negative environment.

Toyota ad imageThe latest research by the coalition shows public tolerance of fraud alarmingly high and growing. We need stronger outreach to convince people to reject fraudulent behavior, not reinforce it.

I’ve written to the president of Toyota and appealed to him to abandon this campaign. We’ve also asked for a meeting to solicit Toyota’s support in a campaign to discourage auto give-ups.

I can understand why Totota’s ad agency came up this campaign. The underlying message is nobody likes insurance companies anyway, so why not get them to help you buy a new car. But what I don’t understand is why a car company would want to encourage a practice that makes it more expensive for their customers to use their product.

If we meet with Toyota executives, perhaps we can find out.

P.S. Let Toyota know how you feel about this advertising campaign. You can e-mail the company at its website.

Update – December 19, 2007: The Boston Globe ran a great story on this issue today. Pressure is building on Toyota to abandon these ads.

Update II – December 19, 2007 – Here’s Toyota’s response to one state fraud bureau director’s letter. Rather weak.

Update III – December 21, 2007 – The Republican-American newspaper out of Waterbury, Conn. published an outstanding editorial this morning. They understand how some people will be influenced in our culture:

Given people’s attitudes on fraud and the proclivity of some to “try this at home” — the Jackass Syndrome, if you will — insurers should not be surprised to see a spike in the number of claims for totaled vehicles.

But this may be the best line in the editorial:

The industry would be wise to keep track of those claims, but rather than add the cost to everyone’s premiums, it should send the bill to Toyota with a short note: “You asked for it, you got it, Toyota.”