After overhearing random snippets of a deal, Jeffrey Martinez noticed something that stopped him cold: It was too easy.
A quick Google search of the name given by the customer revealed that his instincts were correct, he said — someone else was sitting in his dealership using that person's identity and Connecticut driver's license to buy a Lexus.
"He wants to finance 100 percent of it, and his credit is in the 800s, which is fabulous," Martinez, general sales manager at Lexus of Mount Kisco, in southern New York, told Automotive News. "The guys quoted him a rate of 4.9, and he didn't flinch — and that was when the rates were like at 2.9."
Martinez's skepticism may have helped prevent the store from being victimized that day by what prosecutors say was an identity-theft and car-trafficking ring with expensive taste that managed to fool at least five other dealerships in the outskirts of metropolitan New York City. Fraud is a long-running sore point among dealers nationwide, and a look at an ongoing federal case reveals some subtle clues that could help dealers ascertain what's real and which would-be customers might be too good to be true.
On Jan. 18, Jankely Hidalgo, 29, dropped off Jonathan Sevilla, 34, at Lexus of Mount Kisco, about an hour's drive from the Bronx, where both men lived.
Authorities say Sevilla attempted to finance a 2018 Lexus LX 570 using the identity of an individual who Martinez said held a "big position" at a local hospital.
When Martinez began asking Sevilla specific questions about the hospital, he was met with generic one- and two-word answers.
"There's something not right there because you should be able to qualify for a lower rate, and if you work that hard and you are who you say you are ... you would know better," Martinez said.
Sevilla's demeanor was eerily calm, Martinez said, and he sat in the service lobby for hours waiting for the SUV, despite being told that he could return later.
"He was so calm, so cool, so collected," he said, "and that's what drove me home."
Martinez reported his suspicions to the store's owners and then did what he thought was in the dealership's best interest.
"I've been doing this for a long time," Martinez said. "I didn't want to make it a scene because how do I know that he doesn't have a gun or a knife?"
As the process dragged on and the printer mysteriously stopped working, Sevilla grew antsy and started pacing.
Martinez wasn't sure whether calling the police at that moment was the best course of action.
"Was I going to get John Cena, or was I going to get the guy from the movie Police Academy?" he said. "I was afraid that I would be putting the dealership at risk."
After Sevilla eventually left on his own, Martinez called the police immediately.
"He walked outside, picked up his phone, and the next thing you know, he started walking across the street," Martinez said, "then he walked toward the grass and over the fence."