Gloria B. loves a good puzzle, but when a handwritten letter appeared in her mailbox, she was puzzled by how much a stranger knew about her. 

 “The letter started by saying, ‘I’m in desperate need of your 2013 Volvo,” she shared. The writer also included a business card from a local car dealership, asking Gloria to give him a call. 

“I figured this guy might have been some sort of a crackpot!” Gloria said. “And it’s almost stalking behavior because he went so far as to find out who owned this car.” 

But auto industry experts say this behavior is not sinister. Rather, it’s an indication of the desperate sales tactics some dealerships are taking to build up inventory in a sparse automotive market. 

“There’s a shortage of cars today,” shares Steve Lehto, an attorney who specializes in automotive law. “Both brand new and used. And it’s caused a tightening in the car market, so car prices are up across the board.” 

“The chip shortages are causing a problem,” continued Steve. “I’m in Michigan, and I know where all the automotive plants are. And as I drive around, I often see huge lots filled with vehicles, and those vehicles cannot be sold because they’re missing chips.” 

This shortage makes existing cars, like Gloria’s, a hot commodity. 

“The writer said he could give me $8000 dollars over the car’s value!” Gloria said. 

It seems like easy money, but is it worth it?

“The problem that you have nowadays is that you find out that the used car you’re driving right now is worth so much more, so you think you can go sell it and make some good money,” says Steve Lehto. “But you’ve got to go buy another car in the exact same market. So it’s going to help you at one end of the transaction and hurt you just as much at the other end.”

“I just thought it was an odd thing,” Gloria expressed. “My concern was, well, how did we get here? How did you even pick me out?”

We wondered the same thing. So we decided to call the dealership to ask, “what’s the deal?”

Our Senior Producer Marnie Zambri gave them a call. “How did you know she has this type of vehicle? And how did you know how to contact her?”

The woman we spoke with at the dealership said they have a database that they pull people’s information from. “Of course, it doesn’t give us any personal information,” she said. “Just the vehicles and certain owners of the vehicles.” 

We asked Gloria if she was buying that answer. “Do you believe her when she said they aren’t using any personal information?” Marnie asked Gloria. “No,” Gloria was adamant. “I don’t believe that for a second.”

In fact, when we asked attorney Steve Lehto about it, he said that access to this database is not only legal, but lucrative for state agencies.

“Many states allow the DMV or Secretary of State’s office, when you come in to register a vehicle, to take that information and sell it,” he shared. “So people out there can buy the information - and it’s actually so detailed it’s scary!”

But rather than being scared, Gloria just wants to get the word out to other folks that this information is out there. And access to it may open you up to a financial faux pas. 

“It’s like anything else in advertising,” says Gloria. “You realize there are certain advertisements for something, and you go for it, and then you find out that isn’t quite what it was cracked up to be.”

Lesson learned? Even if someone is offering what appears to be a great deal, you still need to do your homework. Find out what your car is really worth before you agree to sell it. Because that easy money could actually be fool’s gold. 

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