Preventing Auto Sales Fraud and Other Consumer Fraud
Consumers today face a daunting challenge when buying products or services, including trying to prevent becoming a victim of auto sales fraud. The “great deal” you just bargained for may not be what the seller promised, and your agreement to “sign on the dotted line” may have been coerced by false pretenses. Fortunately, you may not be obligated under the contract if you signed because of auto dealer fraud including misrepresentation or concealment.
All states have “common laws” that prevent unscrupulous businesses from capitalizing on deals that are the product of fraud. Most often, common law fraud requires a representation the seller knew or should have known was false, your reliance on the representation, and your subsequent injury. Many states have formalized common law fraud by enacting statutes which make proving fraud even easier. These “little FTC acts” often relax the elements of common law fraud and minimize your duty to investigate by imposing a “least sophisticated consumer” standard.
The standard measure of damages for fraud is rescission – the ability to void the deal. Sometimes, you may be entitled to cash compensation as well, and in many cases, punitive damages can be awarded against the business and to you to discourage such deceptive behavior in the future. Additionally, successful consumers may often recover their attorney fees and court costs.
Tips to Protect Yourself From Being a Victim of Auto Dealer Fraud
There are several ways to protect against being the victim of consumer fraud. One way is to always get all promises in writing. If the seller has promised something verbally that isn’t in the contract, ask him to put it there as written promises are easier to enforce than those made verbally. Plainly, the seller should be willing to put in writing anything he promised – if he won’t, you may be better off doing business with someone who will. Likewise, there are many ways to investigate the company you are considering doing business with before you enter into the contract. State attorney generals often keep lists of consumer complaints against local companies as does your local Better Business Bureau. Although these sources are often very helpful, they are not always complete, so the mere fact a business doesn’t show up on any such lists does not necessarily mean you are safe.
The prior history of a used car is also often easy to investigate. Internet research engines like CarFax or Autocheck generally provide a simple way to probe a vehicle’s past history. You may also contact your local motor vehicle division to acquire a “title history” which often reveals a vehicle’s travels across state lines in an effort to “wash away” an unclean history. The most common red flags to look for when researching a vehicle’s past history include where the vehicle was previously repurchased by the manufacturer (known as a “Lemon Law buyback”), where it was involved in an accident prior to your purchase, where the vehicle was previously used as a rental car, and where the vehicle’s odometer was altered. Although none of these research tools are infallible, your chances of avoiding becoming the victim of consumer fraud are greatly increased by taking simple measures such as these.
Do you suspect your vehicle was a “flood vehicle” sold to you after water damage by hurricanes Katrina, Rita or Wilma? Visit the National Insurance Crime Bureau flood vehicles database and enter the VIN (vehicle identification number) of your vehicle or HIN (hull identification number) of your boat to check. If you discover your vehicle was flood damaged, locate an attorney in your state for legal help.
What to do Now
You didn’t get the benefit of your bargain, so now its time to protect your rights and interests. Apathy and inaction is the exact situation that all unscrupulous sellers seek from consumers, and this Website believes pursuing the damages applicable laws make available helps not only yourself, but other consumers as well by showing big corporations they will be held responsible for not honoring their promises. If you think you are the victim of consumer fraud, click here to locate a lawyer in your State that can help.