Blitz planned to crack down on rogue Irish dealers 'clocking' car odometers
CCPC to ramp up raids on shady sellers
Duped, suspicious buyers urged to call helpline
Spike in calls following Motors' revelations
Widespread swoops on suspect and rogue car dealers are planned as the country's competition and consumer authority ramps up the battle against 'clocking' and unscrupulous sellers.
Special teams of officers will take part in targeted raids and inspections of stock amid deepening concern over the level of criminality, and 'clocking' in particular.
Senior sources in the country's Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) outlined to me how they are ramping up the number of inspections on suspect traders - on the basis of their own suspicions and tip-offs from the public.
Their actions were planned before 'Independent Motors' highlighted the extent of clocking over the past few weeks.
But they have been given added urgency after a sharp spike in calls from consumers to their 1890 432 432 helpline following our disclosures.
And they coincide with warnings from the AA that it has come across a number of incidents of clocked mileage recently as part of its Car Inspections service.
The AA says that discrepancies in UK cars appear to be on the rise.
Meanwhile, the CCPC is urging people who feel they have been victims of a scam or have been sold a car under false pretences to use the helpline.
They are also being encouraged to tell the CCPC if they have suspicions about someone, or some outlet, they have dealt with.
The 'surprise swoops' on suspect traders will be extensive and detailed, officials insisted.
When officers 'go in' they will have extensive facts and figures on the cars that the trader has sold or has for sale.
They will check odometers, chassis, previous owners etc. Indeed, they have already examined as many as 60 cars at one dealership.
"We are trying to reduce the problem for consumers. We want to give people a degree of confidence," I was told.
"We also want to get it across to traders that they are going to be checked out and that they are being watched."
They are getting around 4,500 calls a year about cars on the helpline number (Lo-call 1890 432 432).
And they revealed that there was a big increase in calls following Independent Motors' revelations of individual cases.
The sense I came away with from discussions with two senior CCPC members was they are primed for action on a scale broader and deeper than may have been possible since the body was established in 2014.
If that means buyers can get redress, it is to be warmly welcomed.
So here's an idea of what happens if/when you call the helpline.
You will be asked to go back to the garage/dealer and look for certain information about the car and/or the deal.
You will be advised on what to ask. (See accompanying 'checklist' as a guide of sorts).
Your complaint is then referred to the criminal department and a summary of the car's details, trader information and allegation is drawn up.
The key point is that the complaint will be assessed quickly. They insisted to me that they will get back to you within three working days.
Problems can often only come to light when the car starts to give trouble around 12/18months after being bought - and that was a difficulty in the past. But the CCPC can now work on cases dating three back years.
As the process moves on, you could be asked if you'd give a witness statement: clocking is a criminal offence.
The reality is, however, that people tend to just want their money back and not necessarily go to court.
Officials also revealed how some traders can be quite intimidating when a buyer goes back to them.
Some, however, refund the money and that is the end of the matter.
The commission can call on a lot of help with their investigations for you: the Revenue Commissioners, gardai, Department of Transport etc which helps in identifying ownership of premises, mileage etc.
And it gives them leverage when they interview the trader.
They also have in-house lawyers who review your file on a regular basis. You are kept up to date at all times.
There have not been that many cases in the country because of insufficient evidence or the trader refunds the money and the consumer lets it go.
One reason for this is the buyer goes to the trader and says the CCPC is involved. At that stage sellers tend to refund.
However, it is important to note, an offence has still been committed.
And even if no case proceeds, the CCPC still serves notice on the trader by way of a Compliance Notice or Undertaking which commits the seller to complying with all aspects of the law (such as what they say in their advertisements etc).
If they don't, the case can go back to court.
There is a lot of 'disguised' trading, sources told me. And they are 'watching' people they suspect. That, they say, is where the 1890 432 432 number can be so useful because people can help with their information. "Tip-offs are important. These people are criminals. We are aware that some involved in car sales refund the consumer but we know they are engaged in criminal activity," I was told.
I was also told that there are serious criminals running some 'outlets' - which explains why officers also check for money laundering.
The commission would like to see a national database on cars that people can easily access. They'd also like a tie-in with the database in the UK on imports and crashed cars.
And after all that, a bit of everyday advice: Don't let the sight and smell of 'new' car and the prospect of driving it, distract you from the possibility it could be a fraud and potential rip-off.
Finally, the worst case of 'clocking' they have come across? A car with 200,000km knocked off.
What to do to beat the dodgy dealers
Here are key steps to help you protect yourself when you are thinking of buying a used car, writes Eddie Cunningham. They are courtesy of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission and I think they are immensely helpful. Good dealers will welcome them; shady sellers will probably shy away.
The make and model;
The seller's name;
Seller's phone number (landline);
Where you saw the advert (publication/website);
Then ask the following questions of all sellers - private or dealer - and jot down the replies (yes/no/details):
Has the car ever been crashed?
Has any bodywork been done to the vehicle (by you or by others)?
Has any major mechanical work been done on the vehicle (by you or by others)?
What is the correct mileage for this vehicle?
How many previous owners has the vehicle had?
Is there any outstanding finance on the vehicle?
When was the last full service carried out on the vehicle?
Has the car been imported and if so, have all relevant charges been paid (VAT, VRT etc)?
If buying from a dealer ask the following:
Are you a member of any trade association? (Yes/No/Details)
How long is the guarantee period on the vehicle?
What does the guarantee cover? (parts, labour, etc)
Can you arrange finance for this vehicle? If so, please list your Credit Intermediary Authorisation number.
Get the seller to sign the document;
Get their name in block capitals;
And ask them to write on whose behalf they are signing the document and making the declarations;
Get the document authenticated by the garage stamp.