Tell me if this sounds familiar: You answer the phone and hear a recorded voice telling you, “Your automobile warranty is soon to expire. We sent you several warnings but you did not respond. Please contact this number when you receive this message to extend your warranty and prevent costly automobile repair expenses.”

Yes, it’s the all-too-familiar extended warranty robocall. The Federal Communications Commission tells us they received more robocall complaints about these warranty calls than any other topic in 2020. Besides their annoyance value, these calls bring the potential for considerable mischief to unwary automobile owners. A recent Planet Money podcast detailed the history of this scam and the current state of affairs around these calls.

One of the first things to understand about these calls are some definitions. A “warranty”, extended or otherwise, can only be issued by the manufacturer of a product. Only Toyota can issue a warranty for your Toyota Tacoma truck. No third party can offer an after-market extended warranty for an automobile or any other product. What such an after-market promoter can offer is an “extended service contract”, probably several pages in length, written in legalese, in small print.

The sale of these extended service contracts started in earnest around 2000, when two brothers in St. Louis hit upon the idea of offering to sell these contracts to the public, usually reached through robocalls. They made a lot of money marketing the contracts, and then paying not very much when someone filed a claim with them. They made it next to impossible to cancel their contracts. Their wealth didn’t prevent their eventual prosecution and conviction for fraud, however, and their scheme collapsed after 10 years.

Since 2018 however, other shifty operators began marketing the fraud again. This current crop does not seem to really offer any actual contracts, and instead seeks to collect personal information, such as a social security number or credit card numbers. What makes it particularly hard to discern if this type of call is fraudulent is the scammer may know specific information about your particular car and warranty. They use this knowledge to deceive you into thinking they represent the manufacturer. Much of this information is public record, easily compiled from state auto license databases.

How should we react to such calls? Your first line of defense is not answer any calls if you don’t recognize the number calling. But if you do find yourself talking to someone about a warranty, keep these tips in mind:

Do not provide any personal information, such as a 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 an automobile manufacturer or dealership with which you have an established business relationship. Telephone scammers are good at what they do and may imply that they work for Toyota, Ford, or whatever. Don’t fall for it. Be extremely cautious.

If you have caller ID you can screen incoming calls. Legitimate telemarketers are required to transmit or display their phone number and the name and/or the phone number of the company they represent. The display must include a phone number that you can call during regular business hours to ask that the company no longer call you. Spoofed calls appearing to come from the local area provide a strong clue the call is a scam.

CONTACT SENIORS VS. CRIME

Let me know about scams, fraud, or other crookedness you run across. Most of what I learn, I learn from you. Contact me at Seniors vs. Crime, Clinton County Sheriff’s Office, at 242-9211, Ext. 4433, or email me at randymeier@gapa911.us

Randy Meier is the director of Seniors vs. Crime, which operates in conjunction with the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office.

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