Illinois Florist Gets Cash-for-Clunkers Calls

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An Illinois florist has been flooded with phone calls asking about the government's cash for clunkers plan. Turns out, automaker GM advertised a toll-free number almost identical to Clinton's Flower Corner. The store's owner, Judy Van Fossan, says she has a lot of pretty flowers for sale, but no money for cars.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The phone has been ringing off the hook lately at the Flower Corner, a florist in Clinton, Illinois. But it's not a sudden surge of people asking for big sprays of sweetheart roses. No, they're asking how much they can get for their old cars. It turns out the phone number at Judy Van Fossan's flower shop is almost the same as the number for General Motors' cash for clunkers hotline.

And Judy Van Fossan, that's the trouble, I guess. GM's number is 1-877-CARS654, and your number is what?

Ms. JUDY VAN FOSSAN (Owner, The Flower Corner): Ours is 1-800-CARS654.

BLOCK: Okay. So that toll-free prefix is the only thing…

Ms. VAN FOSSAN: That's correct.

BLOCK: …separating you from GM.

Ms. VAN FOSSAN: Yes. Yes, it is.

BLOCK: Well, when did you start getting these phone calls?

Ms. VAN FOSSAN: We have been getting them about two-and-a-half to three weeks, but it's gotten really, really bad last week. And Monday of this week, we estimated at least 150 calls for that.

BLOCK: Well, what are people asking when they call in?

Ms. VAN FOSSAN: Well, we answer, this is the Flower Corner, how may we help you? And they're like, yeah, how much can we get for our car? We're calling cars for clunkers, or clunkers for cars or whatever.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. VAN FOSSAN: And it's, like, ma'am, you have a flower store. And they're, like, yeah, and how much would my car be worth? How do I figure that out?

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: They're just not listening.

Ms. VAN FOSSAN: No. No.

BLOCK: How did you first figure out what the problem was?

Ms. VAN FOSSAN: Well, at first, I thought, well, they've put my number out, you know, and they're using my number. But then, one of the ladies here at the store got a call, and the gentleman said, I think the number is 1-877. And so then we did a little research. My son looked on the Internet to GM's Web site, and he said, mom, I believe it is 1-877.

People think when they do a toll-free call it's 1-800. They're still not relating that some of the toll-frees are now 866, 877, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: And they're getting you.

Ms. VAN FOSSAN: And they're getting us. We have lots of pretty flowers for sale, but we don't have any money for cars.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Well, I'm wondering if you might try to make a deal with somebody calling in about their car.

Ms. VAN FOSSAN: Well, I tried to with one gentleman yesterday, but he said, no, I really need my car. So…

BLOCK: So you would be somebody in America who would be hoping that the cash for clunkers money would run out really soon, so these calls might go away.

Ms. VAN FOSSAN: Well, yes and no. I know how bad the economy is, and I'm hoping that this, you know, will help, you know, help the economy, strengthen it a little bit. Obama is from Central Illinois. So, you know, anything that'll help him and help our country, that's, you know, we'll help.

(Soundbite of phone ringing)

BLOCK: That could be a clunker call coming in right now.

Ms. VAN FOSSAN: I'm sure it is.

BLOCK: Can we listen?

Ms. VAN FOSSAN: She - another girl has it up front.

BLOCK: And can you tell what she's saying?

Ms. VAN FOSSAN: Cars for clunkers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. VAN FOSSAN: Yeah, that's what it is.

BLOCK: She just said that?

Ms. VAN FOSSAN: Mm-hmm. Yeah, she's just shaking her head, yeah.

BLOCK: Well, Judy Van Fossan, I hope this phone business gets straightened out pretty soon for you.

Ms. VAN FOSSAN: I do, too. I do, too, and it will. We'll get through it. It'll be fine. It's just - it's very - it's trying some days.

BLOCK: Well, good to talk with you. Thanks very much.

Ms. VAN FOSSAN: Okay. Thank you and have a good day.

BLOCK: You too. Bye-bye.

Ms. VAN FOSSAN: Bye-bye.

BLOCK: Judy Van Fossan owns The Flower Corner, a store in Clinton, Illinois that has just about the same phone number as General Motors' cash for clunkers hotline.

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