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Fixing small dings in car puts a big dent in his wallet

Ernest Atlas, a retired doctor from Santa Fe, is a “lifelong car buff” who says he is “compulsive” about his silver 2013 MINI Cooper.

The little vehicle was in perfect condition – until a falling rake in Atlas’ garage delivered the first of two small dings that marred the glossy body.

While the damage was minor, Atlas was intent on getting the spots repaired and jumped at the chance when he saw in a Santa Fe parking lot two guys in a pickup advertising same-day mobile repair services.

They were advertising the type of fix Atlas was interested in – paintless dent repair – and were offering 50 percent off that day. The two men had just unsuccessfully approached another potential customer when Atlas walked up and asked for a quote.

The two men followed him back to his house, where his MINI Cooper was parked, and gave him an estimate of $380.

One of them “sort of buttered me up by saying, `you look just like my grandfather,'” said Atlas, who just turned 80. “I fell for it.”

The two said they were first going off to buy paint – even though their repairs were advertised as “paintless,” Atlas said. But he only realized that in hindsight.

And later, when the workers were done with the job, Atlas didn’t inspect their work but did go to the bank at their request so he could pay them in cash.

“I had fallen into the clutches of their trap by this time,” the retired doctor said.

The ending to the story is not pretty, nor was the damage left to the previously perfect vehicle. The so-called car repairmen had sanded “to bare metal” areas of the car that hadn’t had damage to begin with, and where they did spray paint, it was a dull aluminimum silver without any kind of gloss, Atlas said.

When he called the phone number that had been posted on the truck, he got no response. (Neither did the Journal.)

Atlas ended up spending about $1,700 in repair work at a local auto body shop to get the whole mess redone.

He now says his experience might be attributed to his age, that as people get older they can become less discerning and more vulnerable.

While that might be partly true, it’s also true that anyone can fall for businesses or individuals that make bogus claims to earn a buck.

Atlas says his advice to others is to patronize businesses that you know are reputable – and that actually have a shop with supplies and equipment.

His No. 2 tip is to “not get taken in by nice young men who seem to be honest.”

Here are a few more suggestions on avoiding Atlas’ predicament:

  • Ask for references.
  • Check the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org to see if there have been any consumer complaints or warnings about the company.
  • Do an Internet search on the company’s name, along with words like “scam” or “warning.”

Ellen Marks is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal. Contact her at emarks@abqjournal.com or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-800-678-1508.

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