Beware "too good to be true" holiday car deals

Fraud and misrepresentation rise along with the car shopping season.

Santa may be able to travel around the world in one night on the strength of his reindeer, but for some unlucky shoppers this holiday season, fraud and other deceptive practices may prevent a new car owner from traveling anywhere.

The holiday season is consumer shopping season. This is true of most goods, including vehicles. Numerous car dealerships offer sales, discounts and holiday specials to capitalize on the festive atmosphere. Unfortunately, fraud, forgery and other illegal and unethical behavior is a real threat when purchasing a vehicle over the holidays. Rolling back an odometer is illegal, but nonetheless hundreds of thousands of vehicles are on the nation's roads that have more mileage than indicated. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that odometer fraud costs Americans over $1 billion annually, and that 450,000 vehicles have been rolled back at some point.

Unethical car dealerships and private sellers have had other tricks up their sleeves as well. Forging a title to a vehicle is relatively common. Some sellers refuse to honor warranties or make misrepresentations regarding vehicle maintenance.

Deceptive advertising is particularly prevalent during the holiday season. Last year, for example, the Federal Trade Commission cracked down nationally on 10 dealerships that falsely advertised low pricing, low vehicle financing, and otherwise violated the Federal Trade Commission Act through misleading advertisements over the holidays. One dealership even lured in customers by falsely claiming that they had won a prize.

The FTC requires that dealerships must disclose all of the important terms of an offer in plain language. A dealership cannot hide fine print clicks away from an online ad, for example, or reveal it only once the buyer obtains financing. In Virginia, The Virginia Consumer Protection Act also prevents sellers from engaging in fraudulent or misleading advertising.

Legal options exist

For buyers, preventing fraud and not becoming lured in by deceptive advertising is ideal. However, for buyers who learn too late that they have been misled or sold a lemon, there are legal avenues available. For example, Virginia's Motor Vehicle Warranty Enforcement Act holds manufacturers accountable for their products and protects consumers from unfair vehicle warranties. If a car does not live up to its warranty, the owner is entitled to timely repairs or a replacement vehicle.

Consumers who believe they have been defrauded or sold a lemon when purchasing a vehicle should speak to the experienced consumer protection attorneys at Surovell, Isaacs, & Levy PLC  to discuss their situation and legal options available.

Keywords: Lemon law, misrepresentation, fraud