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odometerWith all of the online auctions and classified ads for vehicles, it’s not tough to imagine that some of those listings may be fake. But if you’re a buyer who ends up with a vehicle that you suspect to different than advertised, how can you tell for sure? Some of the tips below will provide simple tools to use and common items to check for basic types of vehicle fraud.
Odometer Fraud
According to the Consumer Federation of America, nearly 1 in 10 Americans is driving around in a vehicle with an incorrect odometer. Both mechanical and digital odometers can be tampered with somewhat easily, but there are ways to protect against this type of deception. The simplest way is to compare the total mileage listed on the title to the odometer itself. Fraudsters will often attempt to make the title mileage difficult to read through blurring or smudging, but any items that are unclear or unreadable on a title should be a red flag to any potential buyer. You can also check mileage against any maintenance or oil change stickers that may be on the vehicle.
Mechanical or Body Work Fraud
Another common type of fraud involves hiding mechanical or body damage. Most often this will include covering up minor things like scratches or surface rust while not disclosing that those items exist. More extreme cases of fraud can involve tampering with or altering mechanical components of the vehicle itself. The best fight against this type of fraud is to have any purchased vehicle properly inspected by a mechanic. Unless you happen to have extensive knowledge about the make or model you’re purchasing, only a professional will be able to spot the signs of tampering at the mechanical level.
Washing a Title
This type of deception is most commonly found after major natural disasters like hurricanes or floods. With these types of disasters vehicles are sometimes given a salvage status due to heavy water damage. Washing the title refers to the practice of dealers or individuals transferring the vehicle to another state or region that doesn’t recognize that salvage brand. The easiest way to fight this type of fraud is to run a vehicle history report through a company like CarFAX. Companies like CarFAX run a comprehensive report that, more likely than not, will expose this salvage title that the seller may have attempted to hide.
Protect Your Funds Against Fraud
You can also head off any potential fraud at the pass by using an online escrow service like PaySAFE. By placing your purchase funds with a neutral third party and crafting your own purchase agreement, you can have the chance to thoroughly inspect any vehicle you intend to buy before clearing the funds for release. Once you know that the vehicle you’re considering is what it’s supposed to be you can then release the funds to the seller, keeping your purchase money safe and sound.
For more tips on buying and selling vehicles online see our posts on the used car buyer’s checklist, selling a car as part of an estate, and how to buy a car on Craigslist.

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