Columnists, Mike Rosen, National, Uncategorized

Rosen: Don’t fall for the extended auto warranty scam

Perhaps you’ve gotten a phone call from a company that wants to sell you an extension on your auto warranty.  Or perhaps you’ve gotten a ton of these nuisance robocalls, like I have.  Not only are they persistent, they’re very forgiving.  After I’ve told them repeatedly that I’m not interested, they call me again and again to give me “one last chance” before their offer expires.  To date, I’ve gotten about a hundred last chances.

While there are some legitimate companies out there that sell extended warranties when your new car warranty runs out, beware of the scammers who are flooding the market and our phone lines.  And even so-called “legitimate” companies can sucker you with deceptive warranties or service contracts that cover far fewer repairs than you were led to believe.

The Federal Communications Commission is on the case but hasn’t had much success in stamping this out, as is obvious.  The scammers are mostly offshore, disguise their phone number on your caller ID and ignore the National Do Not Call Registry.

Usually, I just hang up immediately on this kind of (and all) robocalls.  However, with a little time on my hands as a COVID shut-in, I recently engaged in a little detective work.  When I answered the phone, waited for the robo pause and listened to the recorded intro, I actually pressed “one” to talk to an agent.  I listened patiently (and gullibly) for the pitch delivered in a foreign accent, of course, and agreed to talk to an “authorizer” who wanted to know the make, model, year and mileage on my car.  Despite my Army training to reveal nothing more than name rank and service number, I figured there wasn’t much risk in describing the car.  But I certainly wasn’t going to give my credit card number or bank account.  I was then returned to the sales agent.

I asked for the company’s name.  She mumbled something.  When I Googled it later, nothing matched.  I asked how claims were processed and she replied that, “We work with dealers.”  I asked what repairs were covered.  She said “everything.”  I asked how much it costs.  She said $4,020 for four years or 100,000 miles.  I asked if there was a payment plan.  She said, “Yes, $159.37 a month.”  (I quickly did the math: $159.37 X 48 months = $7,649.76.  Not exactly interest free.)  But, she said  I’d have to pay $195.00 right now, before the end of this phone call.  I’m thinking, maybe this particular scam just wants to get a couple of hundred bucks up front and there’s really no warrantee.

At this point, I was expecting her to give me payment instructions and didn’t want to refuse that and lose her just yet.  So, I said I’d need to see something in writing, like a contract, before committing and also asked for her company’s phone number and web address.  That’s when she hung up.  I suppose, if you seem suspicious and not likely to bite, she doesn’t want to waste any more of her time.  I tried the number shown on my caller ID and got a recording saying, “The number you have dialed is not valid.”

On the FCC website there’s a consumer guide on this scam.  You’re invited to file a complaint, but they already get more than 4 million a year about this.  Many of the robocalls emanate from disguised internet connections, not actually telephones.  The FCC recommends that you “Do not provide any personal information, such as social security number, credit card information, driver’s license number, or bank account information to any caller unless you can verify you are dealing directly with a legitimate company with which you have an established relationship.”

I’d offer even stronger advice: don’t do any business or contribute to a charity that reaches you through an unsolicited phone call, especially if they ask for sensitive personal information.

In 2019, Congress passed the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrent (TRACED) Act with overwhelming bipartisan support.  Congress had already passed more than a dozen anti-robocall laws without much effect.  Today, living without telecommunications, social media and internet commerce is unimaginable.  That genie isn’t going back in the bottle.  For all the convenience, efficiency and benefits of this technology, it operates in a media universe saturated with misinformation, stupidity, smut, hate and fraud.  Unfortunately, that’s a product of human nature and goes with the territory.  There’s no easy fix on the horizon.  The best you can do is be discerning, prudent and careful.

Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for CompleteColorado.com.

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