Monday, May 11, 2009
Car warranty phone scams ensnare, enrage Americans
Lawmaker wants FTC to investigate harassing calls By Karen Matthews • ASSOCIATED PRESS • May 11, 2009 Americans increasingly are receiving calls with a computerized voice saying, "This is the final notice. The factory warranty on your vehicle is about to expire," or something similar, several times a day on their cell or land lines. The calls come even if a person has signed up for the national "do not call" registry. Now, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York wants a federal investigation into the "robo-dialer harassment." "Not only are these calls a nuisance, but they tie up land lines and can eat up a user's cell phone minutes, possibly leading to a higher cell phone bill due to overage charges," Schumer, D-N.Y, said. Meanwhile, officials in 40 states are investigating the companies behind the car-warranty calls. Michelle Corey, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau in St. Louis, said the industry is based largely in the St. Louis area and generates thousands of complaints a year. She said a group of companies began operating in Missouri in the mid-1990s that offered extended repair warranties to people whose manufacturer-issued warranties were about to expire. Within a few years, about 35 firms were offering similar services. "It's a very lucrative industry," Corey said. The companies offer contracts akin to insurance policies, pledging to pay for car repairs in exchange for fees paid upfront. The companies call numbers randomly and leave messages telling people that their auto warranties are about to expire — whether or not they even own a car. Some companies also send out cards that mislead recipients into thinking that their vehicle has been subject to a safety recall, Corey said. If people call back and agree to buy a policy, Corey said, the companies often don't let them see the contract until they agree to pay. Victims lose thousands Some scam victims don't learn until it is too late that the deals don't cover many types of repairs, Corey said. "Some people are losing thousands and thousands of dollars in purchasing a product that turns out to be useless," she said. The Federal Trade Commission, which already operates the do-not-call list, should work with state and local authorities "to find the scam artists and shut their operations down," Schumer said. "This is an annoying scam whose perpetrators have found a way around the do-not-call list," he said at a news conference in his Manhattan office. "The FTC has to track them down and then shut them down to put an end to this nuisance once and for all." Missouri authorities filed a lawsuit last month against one of the largest car-warranty companies, Wentzville, Mo.-based USfidelis, charging that company officials ignored a subpoena demanding that they answer questions about their business. A spokesman for USfidelis, which has more than 1,000 employees, said Sunday that there was "some confusion about the appearance date." The spokesman, Ken Fields, said USfidelis "treats every customer fairly and honestly." The company stopped making unsolicited marketing calls last year, he said. Corey of the Better Business Bureau said it is often difficult to know who is making the calls, because companies change names frequently and use telemarketing subcontractors. Schumer, who received a call last week, said a federal crackdown is needed. "A few states have tried, but we need national action," he said.
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