Rather than simply "brooming" identity scammers out the dealership door, the Houston Automobile Dealers Association and the local independent dealers association formed a partnership with the Houston Police Department.
Dealerships send the police real-time information on people they suspect to be identity scammers, and if the warnings appear to be justified, the police alert other dealerships, often with an image of the suspect and aliases they may be using.
As a result of this cooperation, police have arrested at least 32 "fraud in progress" suspects while they were still inside dealerships, plus hundreds more suspects in other locations in the last three years, Houston Police Sgt. Darren Schlosser said.
To discuss the partnership, Special Correspondent Jim Henry interviewed Steven Wolf, 54, dealer principal of five Helfman brand dealerships — two Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram-Fiat stores, two Alfa Romeo-Maserati and one Ford — and a board member for the Houston Automobile Dealers Association. The following are edited excerpts.
Q: Is there something particular about Houston that makes it a target for identity theft, or is Houston just part of a nationwide trend?
A: It's rampant. It's really rampant. It's rampant for the whole nation. We've been hit at all of our stores. People think it's just the luxury cars, but we've been hit from Chrysler, to Ford, to Alfa-Maserati. All my dealer friends have run into the same thing.
What did you do before there was this police partnership?
If we sniffed out something suspicious, we'd just broom 'em out, tell them, "We don't have a deal for you," and ask them to leave. But then you just know they're going to go down the street and try the next guy. We're really just trying to stop it.
The dealers are sick and tired of it. The lenders certainly are sick and tired of it.
Is there some warning sign they all have in common?
The No. 1 thing is, no money down. They never want to put any money down. B, they don't have a trade-in. C, there's usually something that just doesn't add up, like where they work, or where they live, or what they do for a living — just don't all add up. We had a guy who said he was an architect, but if you say you're an architect and misspell "architect," that's a bad sign.