Monday, May 03, 2010

Car Dealers Exploiting the Elderly

I don’t like to run old columns, but some things bear repeating. This column originally ran in Hometown News and my blog on March 9, 2007. I’m writing this on Monday May 2 and I received a call yesterday from an 83 year old woman victimized by a car dealer. She called me because she is a regular reader of my column in Hometown News (apparently she missed this one from over 3 year ago). This is why I’m rerunning this column. He son-in-law called me after she did yesterday. I asked him to send me an email, which he did, with all of the information about how she was exploited in the purchase of her car. I promised that I would call the owner of the dealership and ask him to intervene. As is usually the case in the exploitation of the elderly, it cannot be proven that any law was broken. I believe that when an 83 year old widow pays thousands of dollars more than others pay for the same car, that’s prima facie evidence that a she was, at the very least, deceived.

I use the term “car dealer” often in my columns and I want to make it clear that I am not trying to get personal. I could use the terms “car salesman” or “car sales manager”, but the dealer is the boss and I firmly believe the placard Harry Truman had on his desk, “The buck stops here”. The guy that owns the place is responsible for the actions of his employees. Just because he doesn’t know that there are some salesmen or managers taking advantage of his customers, is no excuse.

When I became a senior citizen I truly began to see the world in a different light. I have been a car dealer for over 40 years, but I have seen my own business through the eyes of a senior citizen for only the last few. One thing that has helped this awareness has been my relative new public persona, brought on by my TV commercials. Seeing me on TV (and also reading this column) precipitates a lot of phone calls, emails, and letters from seniors in Palm Beach, Martin, and St. Lucie counties. Some of these are very complimentary. Many of them are also calls for help or advice from those who were taken advantage of when they bought their car.

I get more calls from widows than any other single category. In my dealership last Friday, I was introduced to a widow in her seventies who had come in to buy a car with her nephew. She had never bought a car before. Her husband had always handled this responsibility. He passed away 2 years ago. She was very wise to bring along her nephew to assist her in her first car purchase.

I am learning as I approach 70 that I’m not quite as sharp in some areas as I once was. My memory is not as good and I am not as fast as I used to be. This is not to say that I am not as smart as I was when I was younger. In fact, I’m a lot smarter. There was a great article in the February 16 Wall Street Journal entitled “The Upside of Aging”. It explained how recent scientific studies have proven that even though certain mental abilities like memory and reaction times regress as we age, other more important mental abilities like judgment, empathy, vocabulary, and semantic memory more than offset the negatives. Semantic memory is the recollection of facts and figures from your field of endeavor or hobby and is most robust in seniors. If you would like to read this article, send me your email address or fax number and I will send it to you.

Buying the right car at the right price is no easy task. There are a lot of variables like trade-in allowances, monthly payments, discounts, interest rates, lease or buy, finance or pay cash, and all that I just mentioned has to do only with the cost of the car. What about which is the best make and model for you? This process should take lots of time in the study and preparation but too often purchases are made in just a few hours with little or no preparation.

The reasons why the elderly are so often targeted and exploited by car dealers (and other businesses) are many and complex. For one thing, there are just a lot of elderly people living in Palm Beach, Martin, and St. Lucie Counties. When a reporter asked John Dillinger why he robbed banks, Dillinger replied, “Because that’s where the money is”. Even though most senior citizens are smarter than ever, I believe that we are perceived by many as not being so smart. We are looked upon as easy prey. Also, I think that we pre-baby boomers grew up in a more trusting, family oriented time and we sometimes trust others more than we should.

In summary, if you are a pre-baby boomer like me, take extra precautions before you enter a car dealership. Do your homework carefully. Never, never make a rush decision. Do not buy that car on the same day you come into the dealership. Go home, discuss it with friends and family, and sleep on it. And if you call me, please call me before you buy the car, not after it’s too late.


  1. The elerly are not only taken advantage of when they purchase vehicles, but also when having them serviced. A simple oil change/tire rotation quite often turns into brake work, fuel injection cleaning, additives to the oil and on and on. All proposed to them as necessary maintenance even if the vehicles are low mileage. Also always chargeable at exhorbitant prices. I see this daily as a clerical worker in a dealership in Central Illinois. I would love to see some kind of yearly audit to monitor this elderly abuse.

  2. Thanks very much for your input and you are absolutely correct. I also like your idea of an annual audit to monitor elderly abuse. It would be simple to conduct such an audit by using the date of birth of the customers. I believe the mere threat of a service order and a car buyer's order/invoice being reviewed by the state Attorney General's office would be a deterrent.

  3. It is so correct. My elderly mother with Alzheimers was taken to Mercedes Dealership by a man who has a medical degree. He had the 77 y/o widow sign for a 350R Mercedes lease for greater than her income, on a retired bus drivers income. She signed for a lease, all the bills were sent to a address of the perpetrator , so caregivers would not know. The perp stopped payment in 2008 and took her to two jursidictions to remove her IRA to take car out or repo. He then moved and continued to drive it unpaid for 4 years with non payment. MB financial never informed victim until 3 1/2 years later. All billing, repo info was sent from 2008-2012 to a defaulted address. The 83 year old now owes $68,837.91 in early termination costs for a car housed, insured, registered, and driven in the perpetrators possession. The victim has no memory of the car, lease, or the perpetrator. The victim was able to be approved for greater than her income. MBF benfited by the fleecing of a alzheimers patients retirement. Now they want her social security for a car she never had. If you want to steal a Mercedes Benz come to Orange County and take any Alzheimers patient to a dealer, then send the bills to a defaulted address. The care givers, the patient, will have no memory . The police will say its a civil case, and your elder requiring 24/7 supervision and non licensed driver will have to foot the bill for the lawyers in court. Its the perfect crime. Oh the perp runs group homes. I reported to all agencies and got absolutely no help.

  4. I'm so sorry to hear how your mother was victimized but I'm happy that you took your time to share this with my blog readers. When they asked Willie Sutton why he robbed banks he responded, "Because that's where the money is." South Florida and Southern California are where the elderly are and that's one reason why you find so many unethical car dealers in both of those areas.


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