Trade-In Tangle

Human Services Spotlight Series #17

Protecting Consumers from Scams

Sometime during July 2020, a vehicle owner visited an auto dealership for a service call. The dealer offered to accept their vehicle as a trade-in plus an additional $1,500 as full payment for a brand-new vehicle. The owner agreed and the sale was completed.

A few days later the dealer contacted the vehicle owner and asked them to return to the dealership. The dealer said they had forgotten to sign some necessary forms to complete the transaction. When the owner arrived, the dealer told them a mistake had been made in the price and the owner owed $20,000 more.

The vehicle owner was offered three options to finalize the purchase. The first was to keep the new vehicle and pay the extra $20,000. The second was to keep the vehicle on a three-year lease basis. The dealer said the lease would be “free” but the owner disputed the claim because the dealer would keep the trade-in vehicle. The final option was to void the sale and take back their previous vehicle. The vehicle owner refused to pay the additional charges and sought legal advice.

The vehicle owner filed a complaint with this department after speaking with an attorney. The owner, now complainant, researched the vehicle and found the same model and trim listed for $8,000 more at a different dealership. The complainant also discovered the vehicle had a previous owner and was not new. The consumer protection investigator made several calls to the dealer. The CP investigator spoke with both the sales manager and general manager on several occasions.

As a partial result of the CP investigator’s efforts, the dealer agreed, in writing, to accept the complainant’s trade-in and the $1,500 as full payment. The dealer also agreed not to pursue the matter any further.

Protect – Regulate – Investigate – Educate

Sometimes it is hard to spot fraud when it is happening. Scams can be large or small, sophisticated or simple, but the people behind them have two things in common: They want to steal your money and avoid being caught. The reality is anyone could fall victim to a scam, no matter your age, intellect or economic status. Most consumer transactions are completed satisfactorily. On occasion, however, any consumer could experience unresolved problems such as defective products, erroneous bills or nondelivery of goods or services.

When you are confronted with such a situation, the dedicated employees of Pinellas County Consumer Protection are here to help you. Investigators are available to speak with you regarding a consumer transaction at (727) 464-6200 or email