What Can I Do to Put You in This Scam Today?

If you've been following the twisted path of financial reform, you may have heard that one controversial provision, exempting car dealers from oversight by the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency, looks like it's going to be included in the final bill, despite the objections of both Rep. Barney Frank and Sen. Chris Dodd, the two chairmen responsible for negotiating the final bill. President Obama too says he opposes the carve-out, but it won't stop him from signing the bill.

It happened primarily because of an extraordinary lobbying effort put on by the nation's car dealers, who benefit from the fact that they have businesses in every congressional district in the country. But just what are they protecting by being exempted from oversight? One of the things they're protecting is the ability of some of them to essentially pull con jobs on our brave fighting men and women. You might be saying, "Huh?" But take a look at this extraordinary article from Mother Jones last year:

One day in April, a 19-year-old sailor named William Kirkgaard was walking to the store at the Norfolk naval station when a man in a black Ford Mustang pulled up and asked for directions to the main gate. Kirkgaard indicated the way, whereupon the man, who said he was a former Marine, began asking questions: Why don't you have a car? Are you a member of the Navy Federal Credit Union? ...

Kirkgaard had maybe $20 to his name—not enough to get a taxi back to the base, much less buy a car. He'd only been in the Navy 10 months and had never bought a car without his parents. He didn't even have a driver's license on him, which meant he couldn't legally drive off the lot. Still, Mustang Man, whose real name is Jesse Neely, eventually persuaded him to test-drive a 2005 Dodge Stratus with 78,000 miles and a $10,000 sticker price. It shook violently and the "check engine" light flashed. Kirkgaard told Neely he didn't want the car, he says, but he naively agreed to give the dealership his personal information. Afterward, employees asked him to sign some paperwork; the sailor obliged without much thought. "Congratulations," they told him. "You just bought a car."

Read the whole thing -- that's just the beginning. Military bases around the country are ringed by businesses that prey on young and often naive military personnel -- car dealers, payday loan operators, and the like. This bill would have afforded a means to crack down on at least one group of scammers. But I guess not.

-- Paul Waldman

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