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I bought a used car in August 2014 when I lived in Texas. A few months later I paid off the vehicle. I have the title and I never heard from the dealership after the final payment.

Today I got a letter from the dealership indicating there was a mistake and that I owe them $877. This feels wrong and it feels like a scam. The letter states that I need to speak to a specific individual but that person was not there when I called. I spoke with 2 separate people and neither one had any idea what I am talking about.

Given that this transaction happened years ago when I lived in Texas and I now live in Virginia and cannot walk into the location, what should I do? How should I proceed? Is this normal?

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If they have no idea what you are talking about, you could ask whether the dealership will send you a letter saying you do not currently owe them anything, nor have they charged off anything you owed. This separates trying to figure out exactly how the letter arose from confirming that its claim is not valid. But your description raises many questions.

Are you confident the letter actually came from the dealership? Does the letter ask you to send a check to the correct dealership address, payable to the dealership, with all other contact info matching the dealership?

If not, e.g., if it asks for payment to a "loan servicer" that the dealership confirms is not theirs, or if it asks you to call a non-dealership number "for more information" (phishing?), that party is likely the one scamming you.

If everything does match, then unless it came from an unrelated party who enjoys wasting their own time, the main issue is whether the dealership is scamming you or made a mistake.

Did the people you spoke with indicate that they are aware of the type of letter you received and that they don't have a record of you being sent one -- or that they simply aren't involved and don't know about their employer's collection practices?

Did you offer to email or fax them a copy of the letter? (Maybe they would immediately say, "It's fake -- that's not even our letterhead style.") Did they validate that the name in the letter was at least an appropriate person at the dealership who would be expected to know about collection letters?

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    I called the dealership just now and spoke with the GM. He informed me to ignore the letter, but only after informing him, several times, the loan was paid off, my credit report shows it paid off and I have the title in my hand. He kept saying I need to come in and I had to tell him several times, I am on the other side of the United States. Finally, I told him "This feels like fraud or a scam" and I am going to reach out to a few Consumer Protection Attorney Office for guidance. He wanted me to read the letter, again, but after I was done he said he misunderstood and the letter can be ignored – Steven M Sep 3 '18 at 14:53
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    Thanks @nanoman and everyone else for the rapid responses. The letter came from them, the address is their address, the phone number is their phone number and the person I needed to speak with "directly" works there as well. The whole experience is very strange and it is a shame I had to get nasty in order to get the desired result. I am thinking I should monitor my credit report closer because of them. Thoughts? – Steven M Sep 3 '18 at 14:58
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    If it feels like a scam, it might be interesting to find out if it also feels like a scam to your local FBI agent. Mail fraud is something that the FBI typically investigates. – BobRodes Sep 4 '18 at 0:50
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    Do not discount the possibility that they have a bad record keeping system. Most companies are inept at managing computer systems and selecting competent vendors. Often moving from one system to another will create a huge amount of bad data. – JimmyJames Sep 4 '18 at 16:21
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    This is also a good reason to keep the letter that states you have paid off the loan with your title in a safe place. – JimmyJames Sep 4 '18 at 16:22
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You know how you get "extended warranty" solicitations all the time? That's because the fact that you bought a new car is public knowledge.

It sounds like a third party is using that public database to work a scam on you.

  • The timing is well-chosen, 4 years to the month after you bought the car.
  • The amount is well-chosen, high enough to be worth scamming for, but low enough that a significant fraction of people will just say "whatever" and write a check rather than research its validity.
  • They may have also targeted you because you moved (and can't just walk into the dealership to ask).
  • Because they were able to narrow-target, it makes it worth the roughly $1/piece cost of sending the mail to you. Obviously if 1 in 877 people fall for it, they break even.
  • Being postal mail gives it credibility an email or "phone call from an Indian accent" will never have.

This is what happens when scammers meet Big Data.

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    And "Big Data" sometimes goes terribly wrong... such as all the advertisements I got begging me to trade in my vehicle and they could put me in a new car at a lower monthly payment. The math obviously only works by exchanging a 24-36 month loan for a 60-72 month loan. What they didn't know (because I held onto the lien release letter rather than paying for an updated title) was that I'd paid off the loan very early and my monthly payment was $0. I thought about bringing a police officer with me and demanding that they make good on their advertisement ;) – Ben Voigt Sep 4 '18 at 1:17
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    $877 is "low enough that a significant fraction of people will just say "whatever""?? Please tell me where I can meet such people because I have some land on an island which I would like to sell them. – MonkeyZeus Sep 4 '18 at 13:26
  • Wow. I just learned about a new scam. Excellent answer. Evil brilliance! – Rocky Sep 4 '18 at 16:17
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    @MonkeyZeus: I don't know, the scenario described in the OP seems like a effective way to meet some of them. – abeboparebop Sep 4 '18 at 17:39
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Human nature being what it is, you might consider that it's probable that the GM gets calls about letters like these all the time from people who are disputing what they owe, and that 99% of the time they actually owe the money and don't understand why. Furthermore, a lot of those customers are probably furious and not interested in listening to his explanations.

So, it's likely he got tired a long time ago of explaining why people actually owe the money, when more often than not all they do is holler at him, threaten to sue his dealership, and hang up. Considering all that, he probably wasn't listening to you very carefully until you made him understand that you were part of the other 1%.

If, after considering this, it still feels like a scam to you, it might be interesting to find out whether it also feels like a scam to your local FBI agent. Mail fraud is something that the FBI typically investigates.

In any case, I would keep monitoring my credit reports. Ignoring the letter assumes that the error will correct itself automatically, and I would be skeptical that that will happen. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if you got a more strongly worded "second notice" letter sometime next month.

  • In this case, though, the letter wouldn't say "there was a mistake", it would just have the "you owe X" part. – Ben Voigt Sep 4 '18 at 1:21
  • @BenVoigt Yes, just so. My point is that when you get that second letter, you would need to call back and be more insistent about correcting the error. – BobRodes Sep 4 '18 at 1:23
5

You've really answered your own question with the following:

The letter states that I need to speak to a specific individual but that person was not there when I called.

Followed by

I spoke with 2 separate people and neither one had any idea what I am talking about.

Were the "2 separate people" aware of who the "specific individual" was?

If they're all based at the same dealership and two separate people can't identify the individual you've been asked to contact, then yes, it's definitely a scam.

There are situations where you may be asked to speak to a specific person. However no legitimate dealership works where every other employee has no idea who that person is, or why you've been asked to contact them (i.e. the scenario you're presenting is not within their normal practices).

One way to identify whether the source of the scam is within the dealership: leave a friends cell phone number, or set up a new email address. Ask them to contact you in the first instance by that method. If you are contacted by that means it's almost certain the scam has come from someone currently working within the dealership. Conversely, if nobody contacts you, that is a message the scammer is unaware of, and it's likely someone outside of the dealership who has obtained your new address by devious means. In any case do not provide any details to them over the phone/email - contact them via an official number (off their public website, etc) and ask to speak to the person who has communicated with you.

The real issue is establishing whether the person who has contacted you is a genuine employee of the dealership, bearing in mind they have contacted you as if they are. It seems highly unlikely to me that if 2 other people who work there don't know who that individual is, that it's anything other than a scam.

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You have the title. And if you can check your closed account and the balance is 0, I don't see how they can report anything to the credit bureau or have a lien on your car since you aren't borrowing money and/or have an open account. Ignore it. Have a way to check your credit monthly. Make all your statements for large purchases go to a email that isn't cluttered. That way you can ignore paper mail that involves your car and house as the first year you will always get a ton of spam insurance, warranty, and scam mail.

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It isn’t good practice for a business to ask for more money once the deal is settled. This sounds like a scam that's designed to gaslight you into calling them. Deal with the gaslighting by looking at the paper trail.

You've noted in comments that your credit report shows that the loan has been paid off. You should also have the paperwork accumulated over time that shows how much was loaned and when it was paid back. That should be the end of the matter, but if you're still uneasy about it, go to the purported source: ask the dealership for written confirmation that the loan has been discharged.

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    The loan is paid off, I can see it in my credit report. The loan is "Closed" & "Paid" with zero late payments (ALL payments were made on time) – Steven M Sep 3 '18 at 15:01
  • @StevenM Thanks for the feedback. I've edited to incorporate your comments. – Lawrence Sep 3 '18 at 23:16
  • @StevenM what credit reporting tool or company do/did you use? – hellyale Sep 4 '18 at 19:59
  • @hellyale I use CreditWise, they show all 3 reporting agencies and FICO. They provide a level of detail which I am accustomed to and they show if loans have been paid off, whether they are open, active, closed, etc and they show if any payments were ever delinquent. Also, it is free for Capital One customers. – Steven M Sep 4 '18 at 20:54

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