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Was Jan's neighbor just on the receiving end of one of the biggest rip-offs, ever?

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Dear Tom and Ray,

My neighbor is an elderly gent with fairly advanced Alzheimer's disease. His wife was called out of town and left both of their cars disabled (disconnected the batteries, probably) so he wouldn't drive off on his own. Well, he did try to drive off on his own, and the cars failed to start. So he walked to a mechanic on the corner and asked for help. The next thing you know, an Escort with 90,000 miles and a Taurus with 23,000 miles are running, and are driven off to the mechanic. Later that afternoon, my neighbor showed me four pages of computer-printed estimates (printed on the back of old deli menus, by the way) totaling $4,700 to fix his cars. Outrageous things like a compression test and timing chain on the car with 23,000 miles. New alternators on both, and a new distributor on one. The rest are bogus tuneup charges. My initial reaction was to go over there and yell at the thief, but instead I called my neighbor's daughter, and she retrieved the cars before any work was done. What would have been the best response? I would love to hear your opinion. -- Jan

TOM: Well, my approach would have been a baseball bat, but that's why my brother handles most of the diplomacy for us.

RAY: Actually, the first thing you should do is make sure you have the facts straight. While at first glance this certainly seems like it could be a nominee for the Most Creative Boat Payment award, it's worth asking your own mechanic to take a look at the specifics on the estimates, and see if he agrees with your interpretation.

TOM: If he does, then you can get to work. Start by making use of the traditional channels, like complaining to the Better Business Bureau and your state's consumer affairs office, which usually is under the attorney general.

RAY: If this really was a loathsome attempt to take advantage of a vulnerable old man, then you might even want to take it a step further.

TOM: If one of your local TV stations has a consumer-affairs reporter, call her up and tell her you've got a ready-made story for her.

RAY: Right. You've got the bogus estimates, in writing. You've got access to the cars, which haven't been touched since the incident. It's all ripe for a TV sting.

TOM: Can't you see it already? The reporter takes both cars to an honest mechanic, who checks them out. He tells the reporter that he can't find anything wrong with them. She hands him the estimates and asks, "What do you think of these?" He looks at them, shakes his head, and says, "These aren't the cars that I just looked at."

RAY: Then she goes back to the crook and, armed with the evidence, asks him why he tried to sell this poor, old guy with Alzheimer's $5,000 worth of work he didn't need. And that's when the guy tries to cover his face with a floor mat, and the owner of the shop comes out, tries to block the camera with his hand and asks the reporter to leave the premises. There's some jostling of the camera, and then the reporter finishes her piece from the edge of the property, with the name of the place in full view.

TOM: Wow. We've got it all figured out! That was pretty inventive of us!

RAY: Inventive, my foot. I'm just flashing back to the time the TV crew came and did it to us!
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