Legal Corner: Avoiding ‘bird-dogging’

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JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. — Scams aimed at taking advantage of U.S. military members are nothing new; however, one such scam, “bird-dogging,” has re-emerged as a threat to Service members’ financial security.

Bird-dogging refers to the act of soliciting sales for a third party and is illegal both on and off base. One example occurs when a person serves as an unlicensed car broker who is paid to bring their friends into a dealership and persuade them to buy a car.

The scam is often used in conjunction with other rip-offs. Consider the following real-world examples:

(1) The drop-off: An acquaintance, friend or stranger offers a ride to a car dealer and then leaves the victim stranded. The seemingly concerned car dealership then pressures the stranded individual into buying a car to get home.

(2) The lemon: Taking advantage of lack of knowledge and reliance on a recommendation, victims buy a defective car, or a car without applicable warranty.

(3) The yo-yo: The car dealer persuades a victim to sign a credit contract that they claim is final; however, the dealer later informs the target that the first transaction was canceled and either the car must be returned or a contract signed with worse terms.

(4) Plain old fraud: A car dealer filling out loan documents submits quotes that do not match the car sold or interest rate offered. When the target receives the loan paperwork from the bank, the dealer refuses to take the car back because it was already driven off the lot.

(5) Covering up the dirt: A car dealer fails to disclose, or lies about, a vehicle’s mileage or prior history.

(6) Bait and switch: The target responds to an ad for a specific car on precise credit terms and then the dealer claims not to have the car or the terms. This can also occur when a dealer advertises a specific trade-in price, then later claims to realize the value was overestimated and tries to reduce the offer.

The following list is compiled of tips to assist in scam avoidance:

Remain vigilant. Shopping at a big dealership does not mean someone is safe from scammers. If buying a used car, check the odometer against the listed mileage on the paperwork; watch out for a prior history of accidents; be wary of cars that have been sold multiple times by the same dealer; and consider using www.vehiclehistory.gov to look into a car’s history before buying.

Do research. Research how similar products compare; how much others are selling the item for; and the reputation of the seller.

Have a backup plan and call a command representative for help.

Read and confirm everything. Call the bank before leaving the car lot to confirm all of the purchase information. If filling out paperwork, read the entire document. The document represents the complete agreement, so anything the dealer verbally agrees to must be included in the written contract. If something does not make sense then wait. Consult others for help or seek legal assistance on big transactions.

Think twice before cosigning because if a friend is getting swindled or if the friend is the scammer, the victim could be left with the entire bill. If deciding to co-sign for someone, treat the transaction as your own.

Report problems to chain of command, financial management or base legal office as soon as there is an issue. Seeking assistance from base officials could prevent the same scammer from taking advantage of someone else.