The three dollar manager’s special…

Several weeks ago, I got an oil change in my car.  This car, I inherited from my wife when she got her new Jeep.  She had paid for this oil change in advance so I didn’t have to lay out any money.  The Saturn is the one that we drove cross country from New Jersey.  It had lost its air conditioning in the summer, and since it was old, we added a new car to the family, but kept the Saturn for me.

After getting my oil changed, I had an occasion to park the car in the garage.  When I pulled it out, I noticed oil had leaked on the ground.  I then checked my parking space which is outside of the garage and it too had oil stains on the asphalt.  I was irritated over this since I had just had the oil changed.  I have been planning a long ride in this car for some time and leaving it in the outdoor parking area where it is subject to daily sprinkling on the passenger side and the occasional dust storm, the car was filthy.  I waited for the sale date on the car wash and I paid $3 for the Premium Manager’s special at the local gas station.  This is where all the trouble started.

After purchasing the gas, I realized that there was no purchase necessary and you had to pay for the wash in the convenience store that was conveniently located across the 100 degree parking lot.  Well I paid after over paying for gas, and proceeded to the car wash.  Now, I had gotten one here before but it was paid for at the pump.  This one was not.  I guess it was more thorough.

After watching the car get scrubbed and rinsed, I watched the process go again and spraying my car one more time.  This didn’t happen before.  Here is where I noticed that I was getting hot.  I put on the non air conditioned blower.  The fan started to pummel me with water through the vents.  At the same time, I started getting rained on through the now saturated ceiling.  I was aggravated and I couldn’t wait for the wash to be over.  When I finally got the green light, I put it in gear hit the gas and got nothing…nothing that is except for two engine lights.  Both were orange, but I still was concerned because the one with the downward arrow in it…well, I never saw that one before.  Since the car wouldn’t move and there was a guy behind me, I opened my window to yell out.  I was still stuck in the garage with the dryer blowing.  I couldn’t hear.  Since my car wasn’t moving anyway…I decided to turn it off.  After waiting and praying for several seconds, I turned it back on.  I hit the gas…alarms went off in the Car Wash as I proceeded too fast, so I hit the brakes to go slowly through the dryer.  I forgot one thing though…I had the windows down.  I was hit with 100 degree air from both sides of my face as I panicked again, and struggled to get the windows up.  Thank God that their electronics worked because the dashboard was once again ablaze with warnings.  I inched out onto the road and got as far as the first traffic light before I once again lost power.  I had to turn the car off and on again several times to get it to the car dealer that had done the oil change just a couple of weeks earlier.

My discussion with the man at the dealership shop is where my $3 car wash really began to get, well, out of the realm of a bargain.  I told him what happened in the car wash.  As he was listening and asking about the car I told him that it had been serviced there before for an oil change and had subsequently developed a leak.  He added that to the service slip and told me that the diagnostic fee was $130.  I jokingly told him that he was going to charge me that to plug in a little device.  (I have the device back in NJ and have used it to save on the diagnostic fee before with a “trusted” mechanic.  He said that the code still wouldn’t tell you what is wrong and that was the reason for the fee.  I didn’t argue.  I just signed the form as the cost of the car wash…including the gas was now up to $169.

Later that day, a call came in to tell me that the accelerator  pedal assembly failed and needed to be replaced.  She said that the entire bill, including the diagnostic fee was going to be $330.  Now my car wash including the gas and repair was up to $369.  I had to wait for a delivery of a bath tub at my house (this requires a blog post by itself…)  so I couldn’t leave my house until after 3pm.  I took my bicycle out and pedaled the two miles in 104 degree heat.  When I arrived, I was told that the oil leak was not resolved as I had refused the work.  They told me that if I wanted it fixed it would cost an additional $160.  Now, we are up to $529 for the car wash!!!  First of all, I brought the oil leak to their attention!!  I had not refused the work. Second of all, they got me to agree to the repair for $330.  They were “sorry for the confusion” but if I wanted the oil leak fixed it would be more time and more money.

In New Jersey, where I am from, there is a place called Bob’s Garage.  Not surprisingly, it was run by Bob!  When we had trouble with our 1985 Ford Escort that was barely a year old and was seen by the dealer several times, we were just about at the end of our rope.  We were close to filing a Lemon Law claim.  Friends of ours recommended Bob.  We took it to him.  He had it for a day and then called us.  We came over and met Bob and he talked to us about the car.  He said simply, “idle control circuit…it’s hard to tell with these new cars…if you have any more trouble, bring it right in…otherwise…”-and then he extended his hand…not palms up for money, but a handshake.  I said, “What do we owe?” He kept his hand out.  I shook it…said goodbye…and was his customer for life.

Before moving to California in 2016, Bob fixed that same 2005 Saturn up for the cross country trip.  That was 31 years after we met him.  He has worked on every car that we own.  When the work was done…if we weren’t happy, he stood behind his work.  He has taken hundreds of dollars off of our repairs over the years and once even bought a car that he couldn’t fix.  Maybe I’m spoiled.  Maybe he’s a dying breed.  Maybe I just didn’t appreciate what I had when I had it.

I am sure that the people at the Cheverolet of La Quinta didn’t know this story.  I am sure that there are people there who would do what Bob did if they had the power.  I am also keenly aware of bogus auto repairs at major dealerships that have been repeatedly exposed on the news just so that they can sell a new car.  This oil leak “snafu” is just the kind of setup that would be featured on one of these programs and since I have recently joined the ranks of the fixed income retiree (yes I played that card), my scam filter went to high alert.

I sometimes wonder about Bob.  He has seven bays, always full, minimum two week wait for appointments, but will still tow you in and have you out in a matter of days for emergency.  He doesn’t do the repairs anymore but has a staff.  He holds himself accountable for their work.  That’s why he has customers.  He provides value and quality.  He’s the In-n-Out Burger of auto mechanics.  Just imagine if he sold cars to this 31 year customer.

I think that this is an important story.  That’s why I wrote it.  That’s why I intend to share it.  I hope to find that Diamond in the Rough auto mechanic here in the Coachella Valley.  I doubt very much is will be Chevrolet of La Quinta. Still, before I add SEO links and share it on Nextdoor, I will give them an opportunity to read it. I will also share it with Bob Holshue and his son.   I believe that we can all learn to do better.  I believe that we should all want to do better.

I hope we do.

BTW…my car was supposed to be done this morning…but the part, apparently is in Tennessee.  Maybe I should have moved there.

 

Fraud and Big Business

On May 23, 2016, at approximately 1:00pm eastern time, my wife responded to a phone message indicating an issue with the IRS.  The person who handled her call insisted that she was subject to arrest if she didn’t clear up a tax evasion issues from her 2014 tax return.  He gave his name, badge number, dates that the IRS sent correspondence and threatened her with a public arrest and public humiliation if she didn’t follow directions to immediately clear up this balance.  Yet this whole conversation was a fraud.

 

He directed her to borrow a person’s car, and purchase prepaid Visa cards and sent them directly to your company’s locations to buy them and transfer them.  All the while he told her that if she ended the call she would be arrested.  She went to a CVS and bought as many as were allowed.  (There is apparently an awareness of potential criminal activity, but there must be acceptable losses allowed.)

 

When I finally tracked my wife down she had already acquired the cards and complied with every one of the person’s requests to stay out of jail.  I immediately knew that this was a scam and we went back to the post office to retrieve the cards that the fake IRS employee told her to mail to a bogus address. We called the police and they arrived at the post office.  They talked to the scammer online.  There is a record with the local Police Department.  We did retrieve the cards.

 

When we tried to follow the steps for cancelling these cards, we found that there was no way to get through to the prepaid companies.  All the phone numbers on the back of the cards were for automated computer responses and one of them even asked for our social security number…after just being scammed.  When we questioned a representative from OneVanilla a prepaid company, he said that the payee who received the funds was a known fraudulent business.  Further investigation found that this scam has been running for over 5 years.  The IRS even has the very name of the individual that was being used.

The use of the prepaid Visa card is part of the plan.  The perpetrator knew this and directed every step of the transaction.  He knew the location of the stores and knew where the cards were sold.  He knew how to instill fear and he attempted to wipe every trace of the transaction away by insisting that we mail the cards…to a phony IRS address.  This is known to pre-paid companies and no warning are made on the website, the cards, or at the point of sale. There is no way of accessing a human being and even as the crime was being committed we couldn’t stop it because we can’t get in touch with a human.  All totaled, 10 Visa cards totaling just under $5,000.00 were purchased and used to pay our phony delinquent tax bill to the scammer.  Of those 10, 6 were Green Dot cards and 4 were Vanilla.

 

Based on the information obtained so far, it is clear that Green Dot and One Vanilla were aware of this situation.  Additionally, Green Dot’s consumer access to their customer service is deplorable in light of this threat. Since there were no warnings about this scam that regularly utilizes Green Dot cards among others to launder their money, there is clearly a perceived liability on the part of the issuing bank.  I say perceived because it is my viewpoint and my perception matters here.

 

Since this happened almost 2 years ago and we had reported it to Green Dot and Vanilla and neither company has seen fit to respond to our case, we are pursuing a lawsuit.  These cards are sold in drug stores and dollar stores and they are displayed like candy and activated by clerks who know little more than the fact that they must be purchased in cash.  Since that time there has been a major break in one of the organizations responsible in India and there has been no restitution paid to the victims.  Still there is no warning to the consumer that they are being scammed if being called by the IRS and directed to these financial instruments because, apparently, it would cost the companies money.

 

According to Green Dot’s corporate site, they are doing quite well in returning corporate profits for those investors who don’t care for the dark side of their business or even dealing with consumers who are victimized by crooks who know their practices and know that they will continue to look the other way when presented with these crimes; yet they are as guilty as the person supplying a getaway car in a bank robbery. Financial fraud perpetrated on citizens through use of phone, mail and financial instruments is far more devious and dangerous and under reported.

 

It is for this reason that I have engaged an attorney to sue the companies that have participated in a fraud and done nothing to prevent it from happening again.  The criminals are still out there as my family members continue to get these calls.  I am suing because they are at the very least negligent if not complicit in the crimes being committed against Americans.  Clearly they have been silent on this issue because the percentage of frauds using their products represent a significant enough portion of their profits to make it part of their business plan.  Sad.