Can You Call the Police About Used Car Fraud?
This month’s Wired magazine includes an article about a gambler who found a way to exploit a video poker game. At one point, as he was winning money, the casino decided that he must be stealing from them, so they called the police and had him arrested for “suspicion of theft.” They didn’t have evidence, and he hadn’t taken anything that they had not willingly given him, but the police arrested him anyway.
Contrast that with this scenario: when one of my clients took his car back to the dealer for repairs, the dealer just kept the car and refused to give it back. My client had not missed any payments, nor did he owe any money. The dealer just stole his car. So my client called the police, but all they said was: “We can’t help you. This is a civil matter.”
Frequently, I talk to people who have called the police when they think that a used car dealer has ripped them off. But everyone who has called the police to say that a business has stolen from them gets the same response my client got: “We can’t help you. This is a civil matter.” This is unfortunate, but in my experience it consistently plays out. You can always call the police if you think that a used car dealer has committed fraud, but you’re rarely going to find the help that you are looking for.
So What Should You Do?
If you think that a used car dealer is lying to you, stealing from you, or trying to misrepresent the truth to you, do everything that you can to get their statements in writing. Ask them for an email or a text confirming what they just said. If you’re there in person, ask them to text someone else, like a spouse or a parent, that you’re going to have to explain this to. If you want to record them, be very careful; in many situations it is illegal to record someone without their knowledge.
Even though you may have difficulty getting help from the police, you aren’t alone. Follow the advice that the police give you: Get an attorney and handle this through the civil court.