TIADA Member Targeted by Blackmail Scam
Recently, a dealer contacted TIADA about a threatening email he received regarding a title transfer involving one of his customers. At first glance, the dealer assumed the letter came from an attorney representing a customer, or possibly even a government regulator. However, the dealer soon realized that was not the case and contacted TIADA with fears that something more sinister was going on.
Regular readers of this blog will know that we have addressed on multiple occasions the various rules related to timely transfer. If you don't transfer on time you may suffer fines, penalties and more from TxDMV and the Texas Comptroller to name a few.
The email the dealer received in this situation mentioned a specific customer and vehicle. The writer claimed to have examined public records and discovered the dealer did not transfer the title in a timely fashion. In addition to citing the law, the email writer stated the dealer could be in trouble with a variety of agencies including the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles and the Office of the Consumer Credit Commissioner. Additionally, the writer implied the dealer could face a lawsuit under the Texas Deceptive Trade and Practices Act. The letter ended with a demand that the dealer make the “customer whole again – as the day you first met” by the end of the business day.
Thinking it was from an attorney representing the customer, the dealer responded. That is when the writer of the email told the dealer he was NOT an attorney and had not spoken with the customer. However, he repeated his threat that the dealer needed to make amends to the customer. The confused and concerned dealer reached out to TIADA.
“It was pretty obvious right of the bat that the person writing the email was not affiliated with any government agency,” TIADA Executive Director Jeff Martin said. “In addition to not following the typical procedures of a government investigation, the email came from a Gmail account, something a government official would not use to send notice of an investigation.
“After reading the correspondence, this appeared to be from an individual who just did a search of public records,” Martin continued. “We have all heard about personal injury attorneys that will search public records and file lawsuits ‘on behalf' of accident victims who aren't their clients against large corporations. This individual appears to be doing something similar. He simply emailed a dealer he believed to be in violation of the law and made threats on behalf of a customer. The dealer was confused because he was working with the customer and actually had a very good relationship with the customer. This looked like good old fashion blackmail to me”
The dealer worked with his customer, who was not angry or aware of the emails, and the deal came to a resolution that satisfied both parties. However, this incident offers several lessons. First, dealers should be wary of these types of random emails. Government officials will not use Gmail accounts and lawyers representing a customer will readily identify themselves. Second, stay in touch with your customer and work to resolve disputes, don't let them drag on. And most importantly, this should serve as another reminder to dealers. You must timely transfer or unwind! Continuing to follow this advice will keep a dealer clear of trouble with the government, lawyers, customers and others with nefarious intentions.