By Craig Streaman
Special to THELAW.TV
Are you a victim of auto fraud?
Used car salesmen have a bad reputation for using every trick in the book to get cars off their lot. They're scummy. They're deceitful. They're actually allowed to use most of the tricks that can cost you much more money in the long run – unless they commit fraud.
Auto dealer fraud is picking up at about the same pace of the economy. Just as Americans once again have the means to purchase and finance vehicles, the number of auto fraud cases has increased as well. Car dealerships are able to make a lot of money selling used cars, but greed often gets the best of them – and they often end up misrepresenting a vehicle in order to try to make even more.
The problem is that millions of Americans are victims of auto fraud and don't even know it. You very well may be driving around in a used car that has issues and problems that the dealership did not disclosed, as they are legally obligated to. Auto fraud covers a wide variety of violations, but very few consumers even know what it is.
What's the difference between auto fraud and lemon law vehicles?
We've all seen TV commercials or heard radio spots from lawyers offering to help consumers that have been sold a "Lemon" by the dealership – but there is a big difference between lemon laws and auto fraud. Most lemon law cases involve new cars with mechanical issues that were unknown to the dealer at the time of purchase. Auto fraud cases typically involve used cars wherein the dealership knew, or did not do their due diligence, regarding a significant issue with the car, or blatantly misrepresenting the vehicle to consumers.
Auto fraud violations run the gamut from odometer tampering, undisclosed frame damage, prior accidents, salvaged title or flood damage, as well as bait and switch tactics, and general misrepresentation. These types of fraud can cost an individual consumer thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the car and require the owner to purchase a new vehicle sooner due to the condition of the vehicle.
How do I protect myself from auto fraud?
Protecting yourself against auto dealer fraud before it happens is ideal. Always ask the dealership to see a vehicle history report, such as CarFax, and consider having your own mechanic that you trust inspect the vehicle before signing any documents. Most dealers will tell you that you should purchase the car today, because it may be gone tomorrow – but that's rarely the case. Take your time, and be sure to get every piece of information you can on the car before completing the sales contract.
Once you sign the sales contract, you may be locking yourself into a bad deal that is tough to get out of. Most dealerships that are willing to use sales tricks, and potentially even commit auto fraud, are highly unlikely to simply offer you a refund because you asked for one. If you find out that your car was actually in several prior accidents and has unibody damage, or find that the car was advertised elsewhere online for much less than the selling price, you may have a legal case against the dealership.
How do I sue a car dealership for auto fraud?
Once the dealership has "politely" denied a refund, and lets you know that they are not going to let you return the vehicle and get your money back, it's time to consider hiring an auto fraud attorney to sue them. Most auto fraud cases settle long before they get to a court room, meaning that there will be little or no expense to the consumer filing the suit. If you think you even might be a victim of auto fraud, you should contact an attorney within your state that handles these types of cases today.
The author, Craig Streaman, works at Consumer Action Law Group, PC, a Los Angeles, California bankruptcy and foreclosure law firm.
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