April 24, 2009

State Insurance Department warns of misleading

Jefferson City, Mo. - The Missouri Department of Insurance is reminding consumers not to be misled by junk mail or telemarketing calls urgently warning that their factory car warranties are about to expire. Most Missourians are familiar with the postcards or phone calls, which often appear to come from a car manufacturer or dealer, selling an extended "warranty" or service contract.

Consumers often receive these mailings shortly after buying a car. Other consumers who don't even own a vehicle have reported receiving the mailings or calls.

"Consumers are being led to believe their auto makers are contacting them, offering to extend their factory warranties," said Director John M. Huff of the Missouri Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration (DIFP). "In fact, these sales pitches are not from the manufacturer, but from a third-party company that does not know when a car's factory warranty expires."

The products being sold are actually not warranties, but service contracts. Under Missouri law, a warranty is provided by a manufacturer of a product and included in the original sale price. Service contracts provide maintenance service in return for a fee, either monthly or paid up front.

The DIFP offers these tips for consumers who receive service contract solicitations:

  • Usually, the solicitation is not coming from your car's manufacturer, but from a separate company hoping to sell you a maintenance contract.
  • Ignore unsolicited warnings that suggest your factory warranty is about to expire. These companies don't have that information.
  • Never give credit card or bank account numbers to telemarketers.
  • It is illegal for telemarketers to call you if your phone number is on the Missouri No Call list or the federal Do Not Call Registry.

Tips for consumers considering buying a service contract:

  • Don't do business with strangers. Instead choose a company that's known to you or recommended by someone you trust.
  • Check to see if your manufacturer's warranty is still in place. If so, you could be purchasing unnecessary coverage.
  • Missouri law requires providers of motor vehicle service contracts to register with the DIFP. Before doing business with one of these companies, contact the DIFP to find out if it's registered in compliance with state law.
  • Before making payment, make sure you have a written contract.
  • Missouri law requires motor vehicle service contracts to explain exactly how the repair and reimbursement process works, including what repairs are covered and any deductibles that apply.
  • You have 10, and in some cases 20, days to cancel your service contract.

Consumers who suspect fraud or have questions or complaints can contact the DIFP's Consumer Insurance Hotline at 1-800-726-7390 or visit insurance.mo.gov.