Where Did All The Honesty Go?

The Des Moines Register recently reported two stories involving fraud against consumers.  One concerns an Iowan who was apparently selling fake sports tickets and pocketing money for tickets that didn’t exist.  The other is about a Missouri man who thought he bought a Harley-Davidson edition Ford truck from an Iowa dealer, only to later find out that the truck was not a special edition Harley truck, but rather just a Ford truck with some Harley-Davidson stuff on it.  Here’s links to both stories:

http://blogs.desmoinesregister.com/dmr/index.php/2012/02/06/update-iowa-ag-looking-at-claims-of-fraudulent-super-bowl-tickets/

http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20120212/NEWS/302120083/Reader-s-Watchdog-Buyer-fake-Harley-edition-truck-alleges-deception-by-dealer

One victim of the alleged fake sports tickets scam has already sued.  There’s no word on whether the Harley-Davidson matter will result in a lawsuit.  But in both cases, particularly the sports ticket matter, an issue will be whether the buyers should have known better, sort of an “if it’s too good to be true” argument.

Comments have already been made about the claimed sports ticket victim along the lines of “did he really believe that he was getting hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of tickets for less than two hundred thousand?”  To those commentators I say how does that excuse the alleged scammer’s conduct, if in fact there was a scam?  Do we need to triple-check every good deal we come across, and if it turns out to be too good to be true and we get burned, we’re stuck because we took someone else at their word?  Whatever happened to the concepts of trust and people giving their word and backing it up?

If the commentators are correct, then in theory the bigger your scam, and the less believable it is, the more likely you are to get away with it.  It just seems odd to me that people would want to punish the victim who took someone else at their word, rather than the cheater who stole the victim’s money.  Of course, if something like that ever happened to the commentators, they’d be calling the authorities, the media, lawyers, and anyone else who’d listen screaming about the injustice of it all.

Unfortunately, there is some legal basis in fraud cases for the “should have known better” argument.  In fraud cases the victim/plaintiff has to prove “justifiable reliance” on what the victim claims were the fraudulent statements about the product.  Under Iowa law, whether reliance is justified depends on what the plaintiff can reasonably be expected to do in light of the plaintiff’s own information and intelligence.  Reliance is not justified if the representation is of an unimportant fact or is obviously false.

Further, and this is pertinent to the Harley-Davidson truck dispute, people are presumed to be able to form their own opinion about the quality or value of ordinary merchandise or the wisdom of entering into a routine transaction.  A buyer of ordinary merchandise is not justified in relying upon the seller’s “puffing,” “sales talk,” or other general opinion of quality or value.  A buyer may be justified in relying upon a statement that the merchandise is satisfactory for the buyer’s announced purpose.

In the end, I guess you just have to be careful and, to the extent possible, exercise due diligence before buying something.  Investigate, inspect, research the product and the buyer if you have any concerns.  And, if you think you have an issue with fraudulent conduct, feel free to give me a call to see if I can help out,

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