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Erie County Can Protect All Consumers by Preventing Automobile Tracking Devices


OFFICE HIGHLIGHTS

By Legislator Betty Jean Grant

Erie County, NY – I take pride in continuing to be a watchdog and advocate for the public and consumers – especially the ‘little guy’ – and am alarmed about the installation of car tracking devices by automobile dealers and lenders.

I felt a great sense of duty to act on the people’s behalf about this matter, and have advanced a resolution to initiate a committee meeting with County Attorney Michael Siragusa to draft a local law to prevent the installation of what are known as “starter interrupt” devices on automobiles and penalize institutions who attempt to do so.

I take this matter seriously because reforming the automobile lending industry can be one major step in implementing further consumer protections and safeguarding citizen privacy. My particular cause for concern voiced in the resolution stems from the ability of “starter interrupt” devices to render vehicles inoperable remotely and track down vehicles for repossession. Essentially, the devices are proliferated by their manufacturers and being used to extend loans to Americans with poor credit. By doing so, automobile dealers have the upper hand in the exchange, potentially raising interest rates on high-risk borrowers and being able to user fear to collect payment.

The devices also store sensitive location data and are installed with or without the buyer’s consent upon purchase. Many times it is disclosed that a tracking device is being installed in exchange for the loan to be approved, but often times it is hidden in fine print or not truly disclosed. Furthermore, while lenders are supposed to act responsibly and wait until the borrower defaults on payment to disable the vehicle, they are at their discretion and whim as to how and when they want to repossess a vehicle, and have constant access to and knowledge of the vehicle’s location. This is a serious danger to our community’s most vulnerable buyers and borrowers, and no one should feel preyed upon or in fear once entering into an agreement to purchase an automobile.

Many families in Erie County depend on their vehicle daily to drive their kids to and from school, and the danger of their car potentially being shut off during an emergency is a concern I hope everyone shares. In fact, I see this resolution as having great pertinence to the general public, and this country has seen the effects of bad lending practices first hand during the housing crisis in 2008.

I’m a strong believer in fair and honest business conduct, and curtailing this practice in particular will transcend on to additional business practices and lending. If a local law were to be passed, it would be a cornerstone achievement in enforcing current consumer protections while upholding the dignity and privacy of all Americans.

Other legislative bodies are beginning to take notice of this issue as well, with New Jersey recently passing legislation requiring that dealerships give vehicle owners advance disclosure as to when the device will be activated. The New Jersey State Legislature voted to outlaw the devices altogether, yet, Governor Chris Christie vetoed the measure but did support the provision mandating full disclosure.

I hope to garner the support of my colleagues in the Erie County Legislature on this matter to put the people first ahead of politics, and show how local government can be a stalwart advocate and initiator in doing the right thing for its constituents.