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Fraud-fighting tips for mechanics

Published March 22, 2013
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Fraud is rampant in the auto repair industry. That’s right, most every garage around has been cheated by a customer.

Besides worthless cheques and counterfeit bills received in payment, shops also suffer targeted fraud schemes. Here are some examples:

-A garage replaces a blown fuse at no charge. The customer declines diagnostics but insists on being invoiced for the $2 fuse. He later returns and claims the on-board computer was damaged and wants the shop to pay. He’s told to “get lost” and tries the scheme again at the next garage down the road. (Nearby shop owners do talk to each other.)

-A customer is asked to open the hood, but requests the tech do it. The release handle falls apart when touched and the customer demands the shop cover repairs. When confronted, the customer admits it was already broken and he’d pieced it back together for the tech to “damage.”

-A customer angrily accuses a shop of stealing a CD, which they deny. She later calls in tears and apologizes after learning her daughter had removed it earlier. At least this lady faced up to her mistake, whereas others would just sheepishly avoid the shop in future out of embarrassment.

-Using a second set of keys, a customer removes his work van from the repair shop lot without paying the $1,500 invoice. This is considered “theft by the owner from a person who has special property or interest in it,” under S. 328(a) of the Criminal Code. Police are called but hesitate to act, since the case will likely be dropped once payment is made.

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The garage then places a lien on the vehicle, has a tow truck seize it, and stores it inside his shop. When the van owner comes to retrieve it, he then asserts “there were $10,000 in tools in back that are now missing,” to which he’s told the garage owner and tow truck driver inventoried the van together (documented on cellphone video), they have a full accounting of contents showing no such tools existed, and both signed the tow invoice indicating such.

Ultimately, the van owner relents, pays the repair bill plus the tow bill, and leaves with his van. Two months later, he has the chutzpah to bring another van to the same shop for repairs and, not surprisingly, is told to “go away and don’t come back.”

Incidentally, as a point of law, businesses don’t have to tolerate the presence of unwanted persons. They can issue a trespass warning, at which point, persons who refuse to leave or who return afterward, are subject to arrest.

Email your non-mechanical questions to Eric Lai at wheels@thestar.ca. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.

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