State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

Let the Buyer Beware...

by on August 31, 2015 6:00 AM

Let’s say you either run or work in a business where sales is your livelihood. 

As a salesperson, you need to sell whatever it is -  a product, a service, an experience – in order to put money in your pocket. 

Paying your bills and feeding your family are dependent on your successful sales and that commission or “cut” that you get from the income from the sales.

You learn all about your product. You market and advertise not only the availability of your product but perhaps why your product is better than the competitor’s product. You use persuasive language and ask your former customers to use persuasive language too. The goal is to get the word out about how great your product is so that you can pay your employees, buy more inventory to sell and to put money into your own wallet.

At what point does lying to make the sale become okay? Does it ever?

A friend of mine recently received a letter from the local car dealer where she bought a new car just over two years ago. The letter, which included what seemed to be a copy of an actual email regarding her car, was from the dealer saying that that someone was interested specifically in her car. The used car buyer was so motivated that the dealer stated he was willing to essentially exchange her used car for a brand new car.

In the corner of the letter was an orange post-it-note with handwritten comments about the hot prospect for her car with the names of people she knew and had previous contacts with at the dealership.

There was no used car buyer. There was no trade. The email was a forgery. Although the “deal” on a new car was not bad (and got better after she said that she wasn’t interested), the whole thing was a scam. The tongue-lashing that she got from the sales manager saying he had driven the new car himself from Ohio became even more annoying when another salesman told her husband that the new car had just arrived from Maryland.

This wasn’t something that happened in some remote area of the country between a slimey car salesman and a stranger. The scam is in action right here in Centre County between people who know each other.

We googled “Car dealer email letter” and it turns out that this scam is just one of many that aggressive sales personnel in the car market have invented to sell cars – and to get money in their pockets.

According to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) website “When consumers see or hear an advertisement, whether it’s on the Internet, radio or television, or anywhere else, federal law says that ad must be truthful, not misleading, and, when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence. The Federal Trade Commission enforces these truth-in-advertising laws, and it applies the same standards no matter where an ad appears – in newspapers and magazines, online, in the mail, or on billboards or buses.”

I wonder what the FTC will say when they receive the copy of the local scam letter and what the ramifications will be for this less-than-truthful attempt to make a sale.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the car industry although they are stereotypically labeled as the pros at scamming the consumer. Make-up and potions. Exercise equipment and health products. From shampoo to cleaning products, the FTC almost can’t keep up with the latest “this is the best product ever made” scams of those trying to make a buck come up with.

I have fallen prey to the occasional car dealer scam myself so we now only go to one dealer who we trust and know we get a fair deal. I also bought a set of Ginzu knives that thankfully can still slice a tomato and cut a can open and I’ve had them for 20+ years.

The disturbing thing for me in the bait and switch letter that my friend received was that this is a business and people who live and work right here in Centre County. You see their banners at charity functions and their radio and TV ads promise that they value their customers as neighbors.

How low does one have to stoop to scam a neighbor?

They lost a customer in my friend and her husband who won’t ever buy another car at that dealer - a dealer that her parents and family have trusted with their car needs for years. She’s shared the incident with me and with others who will hopefully pass it on. Let’s hope the word gets out before someone falls prey to the tactics of a salesperson so motivated to sell that he has lost sight of his personal integrity.

For the rest of us, it’s a good lesson on if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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