Con artists 'rolling back' mileage in rampant odometer fraud

Practice makes used cars appear more valuable to potential buyers

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor, Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects, Eric Wallace - Senior Producer, I-TEAM

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - More than 60,000 cars in Florida are on the roads with compromised odometers, an I-TEAM investigation found.

In the Jacksonville area, more than 5,000 vehicles have illegally altered mileage, according to data compiled by vehicle history company Carfax.

“Because it is so easy, this scam is growing, not only in Florida but nationwide,” Carfax spokesman Chriss Basso said.

Basso, who has been with the company for years, conducted a demonstration for the I-TEAM to show how quickly and easily a con artist can alter the miles on a used vehicle, significantly changing the vehicle's value.

“It takes less than a minute," Basso said.

With help from a professional with Atlanta Speedometer, Basso showed a Chevrolet pickup truck that had 230,000 miles on it. That made the Carfax value around $3,000.

Basso showed how to remove 130,000 miles from the odometer within seconds with the help of a small electronic device. The drop in mileage meant the truck’s value increased from $3,000 to $8,200.

“It’s an average loss of about $4,000 per case, not only in the value of the car but in the repairs -- the (extra) service and maintenance that those (older) cars are going to need ... that’s all an out-of-pocket expense to you,” Basso said.

Devices available on the internet

The days of mechanical mileage rollbacks are history, but digital odometer fraud is alive and well.

It’s not hard to find the devices to illegally alter an odometer. Many come from overseas countries but are available for purchase on websites like eBay.

For around $300, the handheld devices promise “mileage adjustment” for most major makes and models.

And the I-TEAM discovered YouTube videos showing step-by-step instructions on how to roll back an odometer.

“For somebody that’s really good at technology -- computers, laptops, what have you -- it probably is not a big deal,” Jacksonville mechanic Aaron Nelson said.

Nelson said he has seen just about everything over his career running an auto shop. He has words of warning for anyone looking for a used car deal that’s too good to be true.

“When you start talking about money like that, these crooks out there, if they can figure a way to get an extra five or 10 grand out of you, they’re going to get it,” Nelson said.

It's a crime

State troopers in Northeast Florida told News4Jax they’ve gotten 323 complaints of odometer fraud over the past five years. 

Tampering with an odometer is not just dishonest, it’s a crime.

According to the Florida attorney general, tampering with an odometer, and even owning a vehicle with a compromised odometer, is against the law.

If someone suspects odometer fraud, the AG’s office recommends they: 

  • Look for oil-change stickers, service records or warranty cards with the mileage.
  • Ask  the seller for the odometer statement to see the mileage when they bought it.
  • If buying from a dealer, contact the previous owner.
  • Check the car’s door frame. If an odometer is repaired or replaced legally, a notice must be attached.

Protect yourself

If you're buying a used car and you want to know if there are red flags about possible odometer fraud, Carfax will give you that information for free.

Whether you are on your phone or at home, on the Carfax website, just type in the VIN number of the used car you are looking to buy and then your email address. Any results for red flags will appear on the screen.

“The good news for consumers is there are resources available, and we are working hard right now to protect you from this type of fraud,” Basso said, urging consumers to ask for a vehicle history report. 

In addition, Nelson said, it’s worth the time to take the car to a mechanic for a full inspection before you pay a penny. 

“If it seems too good to be true, normally it is,” Nelson said, laughing.

If you think you’re a victim of odometer fraud, file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office online at www.myfloridalegal.com or call 1-866-9-NO-SCAM.

Useful information, including the names of previous owners and vehicles’ history of owners and odometer readings, can be obtained from the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Consumers may perform a Motor Vehicle Records Request by filling out and submitting Form 90510, available online at https://www.flhsmv.gov/resources/forms/.

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