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Odometer rollback fraud on the rise in Indiana

Posted at 8:20 PM, Feb 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-12 00:02:32-05

INDIANAPOLIS --  Odometer rollback fraud is increasing in Indiana. 

Carfax says more than 12,000 cars in the state have had their odometers rolled back.

“It’s a huge problem,” said Chris Basso, spokesperson for Carfax.

In the old days, car thieves would crack open the odometer and roll it back by hand or replace the odometer cluster altogether.

“With digital odometers, it’s much easier for criminals to hack into the car’s computer, using a port under the steering wheel,” said Basso. “There’s little to no evidence the car has been tampered with, and people think odometer fraud doesn’t exist anymore, so it’s really a recipe for disaster.”

The odometer reading is really important when shopping for a used car.

Low mileage usually means you pay more, but you’ll have fewer repairs and your car will last longer.

Car sellers, both dealers and individuals, have a financial incentive to roll back an odometer.

“The value of a 50,000 mile car may be $5,000 and the value of a 100,000 mile car may be $2,000, so you’re looking at $3,000 that the seller would be making,” said Master Trooper Willis Hughes, with the Regional Auto Theft Task Force. “Most of the victims are low income because they can’t afford to go to a major dealership or purchase a new car.  They buy a used car they hope will last four to five years, and unfortunately with bad odometers on them, they’re not lasting that long.”

Tonya Zimmerman of New Palestine was a victim of odometer fraud. “My title said 116,000, and they put in a dash with the mileage that said 95,000.” 

Zimmerman said when she asked the dealership to fix it, her odometer was replaced with another one that said 145,000 miles.

“The car now has 30,000 miles more than it really should have,” said Zimmerman. “They never fixed it.”

 Because it’s illegal to sell a car with a fraudulent odometer, Zimmerman is stuck with it.

 “I can’t even sell it,” said Zimmerman. “I forked out over $9,000 and I can’t get anything out of it, I can’t even trade it in.”                 

Zimmerman filed a complaint with the Indiana Attorney General’s office and got $500 in restitution from the car dealership.

“It’s still a bite in the butt,” said Zimmerman. “That’s not even a quarter of what I spent on the car. I couldn’t even put $500 on a good used car.”

It isn't easy to arrest and prosecute people who commit odometer fraud. For one, many people don’t even know it's still a problem.

“It's extremely difficult to try to bring the victims forward, to get their information and prosecute these cases,” said Master Trooper Hughes. “They're afraid it's going to come back on them and that they're going to be identified. And some of them just don't want to help law enforcement. That's one of our big issues."

Dealerships like Hubler Chevrolet watch for odometer fraud when they take in cars through auctions, trade-ins, and through sales with private individuals.

“If we bring the car in and (the mileage) is significantly different than what’s in the system, it’s a red flag to know there may be an issue,” said John Haines, Fixed Operations Director for Hubler Chevrolet. “Any reputable dealer is going to try to verify the odometer reading.”

Haines said there is no legitimate reason for a mechanic to have an odometer correction tool at the dealership. "We do not have any and we would not allow our technicians to have any, and we do not use them,” said Haines. “I don’t know of any car dealership that does have them.”

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Tonya Zimmerman wishes she had done her homework before buying a used car. “I wish I would have checked the VIN, and checked with Carfax myself,” said Zimmerman.

Carfax offers a free odometer fraud check. You can also request a full Carfax or Autocheck report on the car’s maintenance and crash history, which could also indicate possible odometer fraud.

Keep in mind, most cars average 12,000 to 15,000 miles per year, so if that’s way off, it could be a red flag.

Look at the gas and brake pedals for wear and tear to see if it’s matching up with the mileage.

In addition, you should have a mechanic look at the car before buying.

Click here for other tips on buying a used car.