JIM HENRY

A case for face-to-face F&I

Jim Henry is a special correspondent for Automotive NewsJim Henry is a special correspondent for Automotive News
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Customers may not always like the F&I experience at dealerships -- the phrase “getting a tooth pulled” tends to come up -- but there’s something to be said for sitting across from an actual person instead of buying complicated financial products online or from a voice over the phone.

The second of two brothers who co-founded U.S. Fidelis in Wentzville, Mo., pleaded guilty last week to fraud for misleading customers who bought extended-service contracts from the company over the phone. U.S. Fidelis solicited customers for extended-service contracts nationwide via millions of annoying “robocalls.” It went bankrupt in 2010.

Last week’s plea was from Cory Atkinson, 42. In April, Darain Atkinson, 47, also entered a plea agreement. Cory Atkinson faces up to four years in prison, according to the state attorney general. A hearing is set for Sept. 28. Darain Atkinson is scheduled for sentencing on July 16. Prosecutors are recommending an eight-year sentence, the attorney general’s office said.

Due to the company’s shady marketing practices, people often bought extended-service contracts from U.S. Fidelis without really understanding what they were buying, what was covered or how to get a refund. Last year, Missouri passed laws to enforce better disclosures and timely refunds.

Dealers know all too well that if customers complain about a service contract, they often go straight to the dealership where they bought the car and the service contract, even though technically the contract is between the customer and the administrator.

Dealerships that want repeat business — and no angry customers on their doorstep — know they need to play it straight.

You can reach Jim Henry at autonews@crain.com.

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