DES PLAINES, Ill., — The National Insurance Crime Bureau is warning consumers shopping for used vehicles to use caution when considering a purchase that just seems too good to be true.
As severe weather and flooding continues across much of the nation, many vehicles will be subjected to storm and water damage. Many of those vehicles will be declared as total losses by the companies that insured them and sold as salvage.
While there are legitimate ways to acquire and use a salvage vehicle, many scam artists will often hide the fact that a vehicle was flooded or declared as salvage seeking to sell it for a handsome profit to some unsuspecting consumer.
Know the signs
People who engage in this kind of scam are very good at masking the telltale signs of water inundation and unless you know where to look — or smell — you are risking serious financial hardship.
To help prevent this kind of scam, which was occurring in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the NICB created VINCheck, a free service that allows consumers to search the salvage and unrecovered stolen records of participating NICB member insurance companies.
Use the service
Consumers may run up to five vehicle identification numbers (VIN) each day.
Absent any state or local laws to the contrary, buying and selling salvage vehicles is perfectly legitimate when all parties to the deal are fully informed of the vehicle’s history. But selling a salvage/flood vehicle without informing the buyer is where problems begin.
A particular late-model vehicle might normally sell for around $25,000. If you find one advertised for $15,000, that’s a clue.
Some useful tips before buying any used vehicle:
• Know the market for your particular vehicle;
• If the price seems too good to be true, look for the reason why;
• Be wary of incomplete titles or registration records;
• Make sure that the VIN on the title matches the VIN on the vehicle;
• Inspect the vehicle for water lines, mud deposits or a mildew odor;
• Hire an auto technician to thoroughly examine the vehicle;
• When in doubt — walk away.
Not all bad
Good used vehicles are bought and sold every day across the country without any hint of fraud and there is a legitimate role for salvage vehicles in the marketplace. But there is no place for individuals who prey upon unsuspecting consumers.
Check out. Access VINCheck at www.nicb.org/theft_and_fraud_awareness/vincheck/vincheck. Anyone with information concerning vehicle theft and insurance fraud can report it anonymously by calling toll-free 1-800-TEL-NICB (1-800-835-6422), texting keyword “fraud” to TIP411 (847411) or by visiting www.nicb.org.