Odometer Rollbacks On The Rise

Two years after Sam Wilson and his wife bought a 2004 Honda Pilot, the Houston suburban couple found that they had been duped by a small car dealership that likely rolled back the mileage on their vehicle.

Wilson only discovered the fraud in 2015 when he tried to sell the SUV on Craigslist and the potential buyer ran a Carfax report, alerting him to the fact that the actual mileage was 240,000 miles, a large increase from the 140,000 miles the dealer had originally claimed. Unsurprisingly, the dealer had closed and was nowhere to be found.

“We learned our lesson,” Wilson said. “This has been a mess and if only we had just pulled a Carfax on it we would not have been fooled. The car did not show its age, so it didn’t raise any red flags.”

When Wilson reported it to the Harris County Sheriff’s Department, there was no interest in having him file a police report and he received the same lack of response from the Texas Attorney General as well as the Better Business Bureau.

“Nobody seemed to want to help us,” he said.

The number of cases of odometer rollbacks is rising each year since the fraud is not complicated to perpetrate, and because many consumers are unaware that this practice exists, they do not bother checking the mileage records, said Chris Basso, a used car expert for Carfax, the Centreville, Va.-based Company that provides vehicle history reports. At least 1.5 million cars have incorrect mileage and a minimum of another 200,000 cars are tampered with each year.

“There is virtually no sign that it has been done,” he said. “Rolling back mileage is a fairly profitable crime, since committing the fraud is relatively fast.”

“When you can purchase the tools online and roll back the mileage on multiple cars, it becomes a very lucrative scam,” Basso said.

The highest number of fraud cases is in California, followed by Idaho, Nevada, Massachusetts, New York, Georgia and Texas. Since 38 million used cars were sold in 2015, “it provides a lot of opportunity for consumers to get ripped off and for someone get away with a lot of your money,” Basso said.

Some drivers mistakenly believe that odometer fraud is a thing of the past given that it became more difficult to crack open the dashboard after a tampering epidemic was widespread in the ’90s.

Through the years, it has actually become simpler for criminals to operate: it’s easier than ever since criminals can rapidly purchase a tool which plugs into a car’s computer located in the port under the steering wheel and change the mileage reading in seconds.

“It’s an age old thing,” Basso said. “Ever since cars have had odometers, people have tried to manipulate them.”

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