MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - It may be a card. Or a brochure. Or a letter. They all should end up in the same place: your trash can.
They're unsolicited, third-party extended warranty offers with your name and vehicle on them. The WMC Action News 5 Investigators and the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South have seen a resurgence of the mailers in the last few months.
Kelsey Hunt, a WMC Action News 5 producer, received six of them in two days for the 2016 Toyota RAV 4 she bought new in December. Each solicitation disclosed Hunt is receiving it because "...your factory warranty may have already expired or is about to expire."
Her factory warranty (three years, 36,000 miles) just got out of the starting gate.
"It's brand new," Hunt affirmed. "Number one, the factory warranty is not expired, and my husband and I bought (Toyota's extended vehicle service plan). It's covered for eight years!"
Yet the extended warranty offers keep coming, and they look like they're coming from her Toyota service department.
"They look like they're from some official...you know, they'll say the 'vehicle-whatever-center.' It looks like it's a legit place," she said.
Randy Hutchinson, president of the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South, said the offers are coming from third-party extended warranty companies hiding behind vague titles to confuse consumers.
"They'll use words like 'Vehicle Services Department' or 'Warranty Department'. They want people to think that the offer -- the call or the mailer -- is coming from their manufacturer when it's not their manufacturer at all," Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said the companies are gathering consumer's vehicle data either from state motor vehicle records or from financing companies "...who maybe share some information and then (the companies hire) what are called data aggregators to go pull other databases, match up names with vehicle records, and that's how they get the information."
Megan Buell is the communications director of the Tennessee Department of Safety, which administrates Tennessee driver's licenses. She said both federal and state laws prohibit the sale or sharing of consumers' vehicle data and personal information.
"The Tennessee Department of Revenue takes confidentiality very seriously," said Kelly Nolan Cortesi, revenue department communications director. The revenue department manages auto registration statewide through county clerks' offices. "The Department is required to maintain the confidentiality of personal information in a motor vehicle record, unless a statutory exception applies. These exceptions include use by law enforcement; in connection with court proceedings; statistical research; and insurance companies investigating claims."
"I don't like that," Hunt said.
Andy Wise and national consumer advocates like Clark Howard of Atlanta have long suggested avoiding third-party extended warranties on vehicles. Howard said the companies are often flighty and temporal.
"You might not get the coverage that you think you're going to get, and when you go to file a claim, they may not be there to pay the claim," Hutchinson said.
Consumers should only consider extended warranties backed by their vehicle's dealer or manufacturer. Howard also recommended getting an extended warranty quote from your insurance agent since some auto policies offer extended warranties as additional coverage.