Auto Loan Scams Lead to Congressional Scrutiny

Jennifer Howard was tricked into a loan scam by her car dealer.

Jennifer Howard thought her loan was a good value. When she was a private in the United States Army, her car dealer tricked her into a loan scam.

Like a lot of buyers, she was applying through the dealer for a bank loan, reports CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews. Unknown to her, the dealer was telling her bank her basic Suzuki had extra options like alloy wheels and a moonroof -- which it didn't.

The scam is called "power booking," and it added thousands of dollars to the price of the car which Jennifer had to borrow, with the dealer pocketing the profit.

"I'm like, 'How dare you?'" said Howard. "I already knew the car was inflated. How dare you inflate it more."

Her story and dozens like it have led to one of the biggest showdowns over finance reform. For most consumers, the first big loan of their lives is for a car. The nation's auto dealers want Congress to exempt them from the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that would be created to regulate lending. The dealers say they typically help buyers get loans but are not the banks that make the loans.

"Why would you put another level of red tape on people that don't do the auto loans?" asked an auto dealer.

The auto dealers' lobby, which has major clout in Congress, was winning the argument to get this exemption until it ran into another very powerful player: the Pentagon.

Both the Under Secretary of Defense and the Army Secretary say new car loan regulation is critical for the military because young soldiers and sailors are "falling victim to predatory practices and prohibitively expensive products."

The controversy has already led to some intense back-room negotiations here in the Senate leading up to a vote next week. The auto dealers say they still deserve this exemption but would support more protections for the military. Consumer groups respond to that by saying nonsense, that the Senate should be protecting all consumers and telling the auto dealers no.

  • Wyatt Andrews
    Wyatt Andrews

    Wyatt Andrews is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Washington D.C. He is responsible for tracking trends in politics, health care, energy, the environment and foreign affairs.