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The Consumer Law Group, P.C.

What is the “Five Finger Spread” scam used by car dealers?

Salesperson Holding a Hand in Front of a Sales AgreementYou’ve heard the age-old advice, “Read the fine print,” but what if you can’t see the fine print? This may be the case when signing a purchase agreement for a new or used car from a disreputable dealer. In this simple but effective trick, the salesperson offers the contract to you, but places his hand over key sections of the contract so that you cannot see what you are signing. The buyer thinks the salesman is holding the paper in place so that it can be signed more easily, but, in fact, he is tricking you into agreeing to a purchase price you did not agree to or expensive add-ons or even devices which can shut your car off is a payment is late.

What Could Be Under the Hand?

It may be hard to believe that a salesperson would attempt something so deceitful, but a savvy consumer should always be skeptical and insist on reading every word of a contract before signing. Some profitable add-ons a dealer may sneak into a contract include:

  • Rustproofing. New cars do not need this service, but it earns dealers a big profit, so they are happy to offer it, or sneak it into a contract.

  • Fabric protection. Spraying a protectant on the fabric costs the dealer almost nothing, but they will gladly stick you with a charge of $100 or more.

  • Paint protection. Paint sealant is another unnecessary service given the quality of the factory paint jobs these days, but it is easily hidden in a contract, so look for it.

  • VIN etching. When a vehicle identification number (VIN) is etched onto a car window, it makes the car much harder to sell if it has been stolen, so this service is a decent theft deterrent. However, you can do this yourself for $30 rather than paying a dealer $300.

  • Extended warranty. Most experts agree that extended warranties are not worth the money, but dealers are successful in talking many buyers into them. Make sure one has not been added into your contract without your approval.

  • A bump in the sales price. If nothing else, you should absolutely make sure you can see the final sales price on the contract when you sign it. If a dealer is attempting to cover up the price, you can be sure he is up to something shady.

  • Starter interrupt devices.  These permit the creditor or dealer to disable your car if it wants to when it feels a payment or other requirement in your purchase/loan contract is not met.  

Buyer Beware

It is up to you as the buyer to read everything you sign and question anything you do not understand. However, if a dealer or salesperson intentionally deceives you into agreeing to pay for something you do not want, you may have a case for auto fraud. Contact the Consumer Law Group to find out more.