As you may be aware, the so-called Wall Street reform bill has now passed in the House and the Senate. The House version exempts automobile dealers from financial regulatory oversight, while the Senate version does not. I strongly believe that Indiana car dealers need the supervision that could, and hopefully would, come with their inclusion in this law. I recently wrote a letter as part of a successful effort by consumer groups, the U.S. military and others to defeat the Brownback amendment, which would have excluded dealers from the Senate's version of the bill. Here is the text of that letter:
To whom it may concern:
My name is Robert Duff. I am a consumer law attorney in the State of Indiana. I am writing to express my opinion that the passage of the Brownback amendment would be a huge disservice to the citizens of this state. Here is why I hold this opinion:
I have been a lawyer for 18 years and worked for large and small law firms in Indianapolis, but opened my consumer law practice a little over three years ago. I have a website at www.indianaconsumerlawgroup.com. My website generates most of my business, which comes to me by telephone calls and e-mails of consumers who are in distress. Typically, they believe they have been ripped off in one way or another. I get more calls about car dealers than anything else – at an average of about one a day.
The specific issues with these consumers are varied, from the sale of odometer rollbacks and undisclosed wrecks to the denial of warranty repairs. But the issue I see more than any other is yo-yo financing. I can’t tell you how many calls I’ve received from panicked consumers who have been told by dealership personnel that their “financing fell through” and they need to either come in and sign new paperwork or bring the car they bought back. These consumers are confused because they believed they had a deal. And they did have a deal. When I look at the documents sent to me by these consumers, I ALWAYS find, every single time, that the dealership has financed the sale of the vehicle to the consumer. The Retail Installment Sales Contract states something like: “You agree to purchase from us, on a time basis, subject to the terms and conditions of this contract and security agreement (Contract), the Motor Vehicle (Vehicle) and services described below.” It amazes me how car dealers can maintain with a straight face that they don’t do financing. I have hundreds of documents in my office that show otherwise.
Despite the fact that the deal has been negotiated and completed, car dealers tell Indiana consumers that it’s not really done until “they have been approved for financing.” This is patently false. The reality is that the deal was done when the consumer sat in the finance manager’s office and executed the paperwork to buy and finance the car. But, unfortunately, car dealers are often not bound by reality. If the consumer does not comply with their demand to sign new documents or return the car, the car dealer first bullys and intimidates the consumer. If the consumer still won’t capitulate, the car dealer ALWAYS repossesses the vehicle. Very often when this happens, down payments and trade-ins are not returned to the consumer. I have one client who was tricked into bringing back the car she bought by the promise her trade-in and down payment would be returned. After she brought the car back, neither her trade-in or down payment were returned to her – leaving her without transportation or the money to purchase it.
Being the victim of a yo-yo financing scam is an incredibly demeaning and frustrating experience. I am doing my best to defend the rights of these consumers and bring lawsuits to right these wrongs. But I feel overwhelmed. I have to turn away potential clients because I simply don’t have the time to assist all of them. There are not enough consumer law attorneys in Indiana, so I have nowhere to refer these consumers. I need help and Indiana consumers need help. Wrongdoing by Indiana car dealers, particularly with regard to financing, is rampant.
I strongly urge you to vote to defeat the Brownback amendment. Please call me if you have any questions or concerns. I would love the opportunity to speak with you, or have one of my clients relay their story to you. I know that if you spoke to a couple of my clients, you would quickly realize just how badly the oversight of car dealers in Indiana is needed.
Robert E. Duff
Indiana Consumer Law Group/
The Law Office of Robert E. Duff