How to Identify—and Stop—Those Pesky Car Warranty Scams
Car warranty scams are annoying and potentially dangerous. Here's why they're happening in the first place—and how to stop them.
“We’re calling about your car’s extended warranty…” Yep, there’s a good chance you’ve picked up the phone and heard that phrase. The robocall strikes again. If you’ve gotten this call before, you’re not alone. According to YouMail, Americans received just under 4.6 billion robocalls in October 2022 alone. That’s millions of robocalls each day, and they include car extended warranty calls and car warranty scams.
While car warranty scams come in the form of calls, texts, email and snail mail, recent crackdowns have aimed to nix those pesky robocalls in particular. In July 2022, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ordered phone companies to stop carrying car warranty scam robocall traffic from an operation believed to have made more than 8 billion illegal car warranty robocalls to Americans since 2018. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has also charged a Florida-based operation that allegedly swindled $6 million from consumers with bogus extended car warranty offers.
Yes, these actions are steps in a good direction, but there’s more work to be done in this area. As such, it’s logical to have questions if you get a weird communication about your car’s extended warranty. If it’s a call, is it a phone call scam or is it legitimate? And how do these people get your phone number, anyway? Let’s break it all down, from how to identify a scam call to how to stop getting these calls altogether.
How do car warranty scams work?
According to the FCC, car warranty scams occur when someone poses as a representative of an insurer, manufacturer or car dealership and tries to get you to renew your car warranty. This type of scam can happen via text, email, mail or call. There could be two reasons these people are contacting you: They could want to sell you something disguised as an extension on your current car warranty, or they could be trying to take your personal information. If successful, scammers could take hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars from unsuspecting people.
What are car extended warranty calls?
Car extended warranty calls may sound different from caller to caller, but generally, they’re pretty easy to identify. If you pick up the phone, you’ll likely hear an automated message at the beginning of the call saying your car warranty is expiring soon. Then, the message asks you to press a button or to stay on the line to speak to a representative.
Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail, says these calls exist for a reason. “The warranty calls exist because they’re really easy to do and they work,” he explains. “Most of them are designed to sell people some sort of extended service contract (not a warranty) and use illegal robocalls as a form of lead generation.”
Yes, you read that right—illegal robocalls. According to the FTC, a company needs your direct permission to call you if they’re trying to sell something. If they don’t have that permission and ask you to cough up some cash for a product or service, that robocall is illegal.
How can you tell if it’s a scam call?
Knowing if an extended car warranty call is a scam or not is crucial, as it will help protect your personal information and your wallet from deceitful characters. Fortunately, there are very clear signs that the car extended warranty calls you get are spam calls. Here’s what they are and why scammers use them.
The call is vague
Jacinta Tobin, vice president of Cloudmark Operations at Proofpoint, says vagueness is one sign of a scam call. “The basic scams are easy to identify,” she explains, “as many follow key hallmarks, including a vague insurance policy or warranty service inquiry that lacks specifics, as well as an automated message.”
While the call, in general, is vague, it may include enough details to get your attention. Scammers may know the year, make and model of your car, but that doesn’t mean the call is legitimate; they could have gotten that information from several sources (more on that later).
You’re asked to provide personal information over the phone
If the automated message asks you to enter personal information before you can talk to someone, or the person you’re talking to asks for your personal information, the call is likely a scam. If you’re asked to provide your social security number, credit card number, bank account number or other personal information, you should not provide it and instead hang up the phone. Adam K. Levin, founder of CyberScout and co-founder of Credit.com, says scammers want your personal information for a reason: “They may target your bank account or credit card information for a quick payday, or other personal information to steal your identity.”
David Lukić, an information privacy, security and compliance consultant at IDStrong, backs up Levin’s point. “Companies will never call you to have you verify your identity or provide sensitive personal information over the phone.”
You’re urged to take action right away
Another sign the call is a scam is if the person you’re talking to is pushy with the sale. “Nothing is that important that it needs to be done or purchased immediately,” Lukić says.
Paul Bischoff, a privacy advocate with Comparitech, echoes Lukić’s point regarding urgency. “Scam callers almost always try to instill a sense of urgency in their victims. If you feel rushed to make a decision, especially one that involves money or personal info, it’s likely a scam.”
You don’t recognize the phone number
Pay attention to the phone number a call is coming from. If it’s from an area code you don’t recognize, it could be a scam. Scammers are smart, though, and realize people may not pick up calls from other area codes. That’s why scammers may use a phone number with a local area code instead. Chris Roberts, a consumer class action lawyer who helps people fight back against robocalls, warns against picking up unknown calls from local numbers. “The local number may be spoofed,” Roberts explains. “This means the number may appear to be from a certain area code (usually local), but the call did not actually originate from the number that appears on your phone.”
When you get these calls, screen your caller ID to see what appears. According to the FCC, legitimate telemarketers must display their phone number and the name and/or phone number of the company they’re representing. You should never call back an unknown number, especially if you think it’s a scam call.
If you get a call from a number you don’t recognize, even if it’s local, a good rule of thumb is to not pick up and let it go to voicemail. But beware: Scammers may try to get you to call them back, so don’t take the bait. Here’s an example of this kind of voicemail, according to the FCC’s website:
“Hi there, this is Shasta calling in regards to your Volkswagen warranty. The warranty is up for renewal. I’d like to congratulate you on your $1,000 instant rebate and free maintenance and oil change package for being a loyal customer. Call me back at 888-206-XXXX to redeem now. Once again that number was 888-206-XXXX. Thank you so much. Have a great day.”
The caller threatens you
One of the biggest signs the extended car warranty call, or any other form of communication, is a scam is if the caller threatens you. Levin warns against engaging with scammers who threaten you. “If you are threatened in any way, hang up. No legitimate organization does business that way.”
Some scammers may say organizations like the IRS will come after you if you don’t cooperate. Don’t worry—this would never actually happen. “If they threaten that you will be arrested, rest assured, the IRS never calls and never sends the police right over,” Lukić explains.
How do these people get your information?
There are many ways telemarketers and scammers posing as car warranty representatives can get your information. Chris Hauk, a consumer privacy champion at Pixel Privacy, says there are legitimate and illegitimate channels they go through. “While some information comes from data breaches like we hear about on an almost daily basis, the information can also come from legitimate sources like a state department of motor vehicles,” Hauk explains. “For example, the New York DMV sells driver license and vehicle information via contract sales, pay-per-search and over-the-counter.”
Lukić says there are plenty of other ways robocallers and telemarketers can get your information, including through a Terms of Service dialogue box (when you click on “I agree” when prompted to read Terms of Service), data accumulating firms, credit reporting companies and contests.
Roberts also adds that there are large lists of cell phone numbers readily available for purchase online. “Businesses have been known to purchase these lists and call the numbers on the list without the recipients’ permission.”
How to stop getting car extended warranty calls
If you’re sick of getting constant car extended warranty calls, you can thwart telemarketers’ and scammers’ efforts by doing the following:
Download a robocall blocking app
“I have scored some relief by using caller ID apps, like RoboKiller, on my iPhone,” Hauk says. “The app not only allows me to block calls—it also uses that information, as well as information from other users and lists of known scammers, to block calls and prevent me from being disturbed.”
Add your number to the National Do Not Call Registry
The Do Not Call Registry is a free list you can sign up for. It’s meant to reduce the number of telemarketing calls you receive. It’s important to note, though, that this can only reduce the number of sales calls you get. Charities, political groups, debt collectors and organizations conducting surveys over the phone can still contact you. Levin also points out that this list helps block telemarketing calls, not scam calls.
Read up on the Telephone Consumer Protection Act
According to Roberts, brushing up on this law can hit telemarketers where it hurts—their pockets. “I use a little-known law called the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) to get marketers to pay $500 per call or text to your cell phone if they do not have your written permission to call your cell phone,” Roberts explains. “As one example, if you have been registered on the Do Not Call List for more than 30 days and a marketer calls your cell phone more than one time in a year, you could receive $500 and up to $1,500 per call.”
File a complaint with the FCC
If you think you’re getting car extended warranty calls that you didn’t consent to getting, or suspect the calls are a scam, you can file a complaint with the FCC. Those calls may violate telemarketing and robocall rules, and your complaint can help the FCC take action against the offenders.
Block the phone numbers that keep calling
If you keep getting calls from a specific number, blocking that number manually can prevent them from calling you. If scammers are spoofing numbers, though, they may continue calling you from other phone numbers.
Don’t answer the calls
A simple way to try stopping these calls is to not answer the phone. If you don’t pick up the phone, the telemarketers and scammers may give up trying to contact you and move on to other numbers they consider more active.
What should you do if you actually want to extend your car’s warranty?
If you’re interested in an extended car warranty, Quilici says you should be proactive and go directly to the source: “If a consumer is really interested in an extended warranty, they can contact the folks who sold them the car or do searches online to find the legitimate sellers.”
Next, learn how LinkedIn scams work and how to avoid them.
- FCC: “Robocall Enforcement Order for All U.S.-Based Voice Service Providers”
- FTC: “FTC Charges Florida-Based Sellers for Deceptively Marketing ‘Extended Auto Warranty’ Programs”
- YouMail: “U.S. Phones Received 4.6 Billion Robocalls in October, Says YouMail Robocall Index”
- Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail
- Jacinta Tobin, vice president of Cloudmark Operations at Proofpoint
- Adam K. Levin, founder of CyberScout and co-founder of Credit.com
- David Lukić, information privacy, security and compliance consultant at IDStrong
- Paul Bischoff, privacy advocate with Comparitech
- Chris Roberts, consumer class action lawyer and partner at Butsch Roberts & Associates
- FCC: “Watch Out for Auto Warranty Scams”
- FTC: “Robocalls”
- Chris Hauk, consumer privacy champion at Pixel Privacy
- New York State DMV: “Sharing your information”
- FTC: “National Do Not Call Registry“