Seniors vs. Crime is a special project that uses the force of the State Attorney General’s Office and volunteers to help educate and protect seniors from harmful activity. On the first Tuesday of the month, we will highlight real cases that could help you and your family avoid scams.
Getting ready to buy a car? Read this first.
Flood-damaged vehicles from Houston and other flooded Gulf Coast areas will eventually make their way into the nation’s used car market and be offered for sale as perfectly good vehicles, according to a number of industry experts. “Oh, absolutely. Are you kidding? No question about it,” said Frank Scafidi, director of public affairs for the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a suburban Chicago-based nonprofit organization established to fight insurance fraud and crime.
Here’s one scenario describing how the fraud might work:
Someone purchases a flood-damaged vehicle. The vehicle’s title legitimately says the vehicle is flood-damaged. The purchaser then takes it to another state that has relatively lax titling laws and obtains a new title. In doing so, the person intentionally fails to disclose that the vehicle is flood-damaged from Texas or Louisiana. “Now you have a bad vehicle with a good title,” Scafidi said. “Now you’re off to the races. You can advertise that vehicle as a totally fine used vehicle.”
Currently there are several websites which advertise flooded/damaged cars. Their listings show more than 150,000 vehicles for sale – from scooters to Rolls Royces. Hurricane Harvey may have wrecked up to a million vehicles. Car dealers employ experienced used car buyers who are experts at recognizing flood damage. But even they have to be vigilant to avoid being victimized.
With water rescues still taking place in Houston and many areas of the Gulf Coast still under water, fraudulent vehicle title scams aren’t likely to begin right away. It’s not going to be an immediate problem because there are so many cars and cleanup is going to take so long. But they’re likely to start slowly showing up a few months from now.
When buying a used car, insist on seeing a Carfax report, which will detail any accidents the vehicle has been in and whether it has suffered any flood damage. Carfax and computers have made it safer to buy a car but haven’t completely solved the problem.
Carfax suggests looking for signs of flood damage, such as brittle wires under the dashboard; fogged lights inside, outside, or in the instrument panel; or new upholstery or carpeting that doesn’t seem to match the vehicle.
The key to being safe is being educated and aware. Seniors vs. Crime helps seniors with civil complaints. There is no charge for the services. If you have questions, need assistance or feel you have been scammed or taken advantage of, please call (904) 721-6516 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. We also welcome seniors who wish to help other seniors. If you have skill in public speaking, computer data entry, telephone skills or would just enjoy learning to help other seniors, please give Seniors vs. Crime a call. The Associated Press contributed to this report.