On Scammy Businesses

James Prashant Fonseka
4 min readFeb 11


Dealing with scammy businesses is always frustrating. In my experience car dealerships are typically at the highest level of shady, while real estate agents and sales people are often a close second. These are the types of people who in business will say anything to get a sale and lie, cheat, and sneak unfavorable terms into deals that unsuspecting people, especially if their customers are consumers or small businesses, will simply miss. In trying to buy a second car, something reasonably priced and a bit more practical than my Lotus for everyday tasks, and I have been sharply reminded of this.

I reached out a dealership about a car listing that seemed clean and reasonably priced. The dealership is an authorized Merecedes-Benz dealership (the car I’m looking at isn’t a Mercedes, it’s a different vehicle that was traded in). At first, my interactions with them were fairly pleasant, I asked to be connected to someone in sales and see more photos of the car, as the online pictures were grainy, making it difficult to determine the condition and interior specifications. Eventually I was connected to a seemingly friendly person in sales who was happy to correspond by text, which I prefer. I did get some photos of the car, though still grainy, but I still have some follow up questions. Then, the first lie.

I was told the car was in service and detail. I believe this to be true. Then I was told that I would have first dibs on it. I thought, sure, the car seems well priced and there may be other buys, and all of that sounds reasonable. But then all the sudden, I got a message saying there was another deal on the table from somewhere else so I would need to submit a finance app in other to lock it down. I was quite skeptical of this, but I already had a finance approval at a well below market interest rate, so I figured there was no harm in sending that over and letting them say they I’m a serious and well-qualified buyer. Naturally, this was just the beginning of more shenanigans.

The next day, I was told they re-ran my credit (what?) and that Bank of America was now quoting a rate an interest rate almost a point higher. For one I was pissed because they did a hard pull on my credit for no reason. Secondly, I know what they were saying is nonsense because pre-approvals lock an interest rate, and though they increased the loan amount somewhat from what was stated in the approval letter, I know that Bank of America tends to be flexible on amount for folks like me (I eventually called them to confirm). Basically, a dealership can mark up an interest rate and take a profit. They come up with some bullshit explanation for why, and then say “oh well it’s only another $10/month” and the average person doesn’t know any better and goes along with it. Boom, that can easily be another few hundred dollars of profit for dealership by sleight of tongue and numpad. At this point I was annoyed and called out what they were doing, and they backtracked immediately.

At this point, I really just wanted them to answer a few more questions about the actual car. Dealerships try to force people to talk about numbers and finance to lock a sale, but it’s just a waste of everyone’s time. I asked to do a video call to see the car, as it’s not quite local, and kept being told that would happen, but before that got another sketchy auto finance worksheet that listed the correct loan amount, loan interest rate, selling price/taxes/fees, and down payment, but mysteriously showed a monthly payment that did not corroborate to all of the other information on the worksheet. The payment was almost $60. I had no desire to look at any numbers, but having this sent to me pretty me enraged me.

They were trying to sneak in a $4–5k warranty, and didn’t even list it as a line item that was removable. They just buried it in the monthly and were presumingly hoping I would sign off not noticing and if I bought the car they’d make a nice little warranty margin. I lost it and went to town on those guys. What upsets me is not just that they were trying to cheat me. Rather, I know that if they’re trying this on me, they’re surely doing it to others, and they’re probably getting away with it most of the time. The idea of these businesses cheating and scamming everyday folks maddens me to core.

With modern technology and larger, more efficient corporations held accountable by both the public and sensible and appropriate consumer protection regulation, I trust that in the future fewer and fewer businesses will be able to operate scammily with impunity. In the case of dealerships, there are enough changes happening in that industry that the dealership business shelf life is short in any case. For the sake of human decency, I look forward to the day when these vestigial rent-seeking non-value creating industries are finally gone.