Beware Harvey Flood-Damaged Vehicles

Flooded cars near the Addicks Reservoir in Houston, TX. (David J. Phillip, File/Associated Press)

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) is warning the nation’s consumers that vehicles flooded by Hurricane Harvey may soon be appearing for sale around the nation.

After a disaster, NICB works with its member companies, law enforcement and auto auction companies to identify the vehicles that have had an insurance claim filed and to process them for sale. All of the cars, deemed to be a total loss, will be retitled with the Department of Motor Vehicles and the new title will indicate the fact that the vehicle has been flood damaged. Most of the vehicles are sold to parts’ companies who will dismantle them and re-sell usable parts that were not damaged by the flooding.

The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is also entered into the NICB’s VINCheck® and the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) database.

NICB’s VINCheck allows car buyers to see whether a vehicle has ever been declared as “salvage” or a total loss by an NICB member that participates in the program. Insurers representing about 88 percent of the personal auto insurance market provide their salvage data to the program. It also alerts users if a vehicle has been stolen and is still unrecovered. VINCheck is a free public service available at: www.nicb.org/vincheck.

Keeping damaged cars out of the hands of unsuspecting buyers is a major focus of the industry. Unfortunately, some of the flooded vehicles may be purchased at bargain prices, cleaned up, and then taken out of state where the VIN is switched and the car is retitled with no indication it has been damaged.

NICB warns that buyers be particularly careful in the coming weeks and months as thousands of Harvey-damaged vehicles may reappear for sale in their areas. Vehicles that were not insured may be cleaned up and put up for sale by the owner or an unscrupulous dealer with no disclosure of the flood damage.

Buyers should have a vehicle checked by a reputable mechanic or repair facility before handing over any cash.

Consumer Resources

100,000+ Insured Vehicles Soaked in Louisiana

The August downpours that dumped more than 30 inches of rain in two days on parts of Louisiana have left as many as 100,000 cars and trucks damaged – and that’s only counting insured vehicles.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), says claims reporting and vehicle recovery efforts that were initially slowed by the large scale flooding are now in full swing and, according to the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles, the numbers are much higher than originally expected.

Based on the extensive vehicle losses following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Louisiana enacted strong measures to help protect unsuspecting consumers from buying a flood-damaged vehicle. Once an insured vehicle has been determined by the insurer to have been flood damaged it is towed to one of the auction facilities and processed with a new title that indicates it has been water damaged. In Louisiana, during an emergency like the recent flooding, the severity of flood water damage may require a Certificate of Destruction. In that case, the vehicle has to be crushed, or sold to a company that will dismantle it for parts and destroy what remains. The vehicle identification number (VIN) is entered into the state’s records, NICB’s VINCheckSM, and the National Motor Vehicle Title Identification System (NMVTIS) so that the consumers can check a vehicle history before purchasing a used car or truck.

Flooded vehicles that did not have insurance coverage are a major concern as they are frequently cleaned up to hide the damage and then sold to unsuspecting consumers with no indication of a problem. The number of uninsured vehicles that were flood damaged may be even more than the number of insured vehicles since many owners choose to drop their policy’s comprehensive coverage as the vehicle ages.

“It’s buyer beware,” said Commissioner of Motor Vehicles Karen St. Germaine, who warns those in the market for a used car both in state and across the country to do their homework before putting any money on the line.

Tips

  • Look for water stains, mildew, sand or silt under the carpet, floor mats, and dashboard, and in the wheel well where the spare is stored. Look for fogging inside the headlights and taillights.
  • Do a smell test. A heavy aroma of cleaners and disinfectants is a sign that someone’s trying to mask a mold or odor problem.
  • Get a vehicle history report. Check a trusted database service. You can check NICB’s free VINCheck database and the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicle’s site. There are also reliable services that charge a small fee for history reports.
  • Have a trusted mechanic inspect the car’s mechanical and electrical components, and systems that contain fluids, for water contamination.

For more tips click here.

NICB and state officials, including the Louisiana State Police, work closely to pursue possible insurance fraud and vehicle theft. If you suspect fraud, call the NICB Hotline at 800-TEL-NICB (800-835-6422).

Fraud Files: Ellicott City Flooding

In this edition of Fraud Files we focus on the flood that devastated downtown Ellicott City, Maryland. The sudden rainfall and flooding killed two people and destroyed or damaged at least 25 buildings.  The 6 inches of rain between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. was the equivalent of a month of normal rainfall.

Northwest Warns of Flooded Vehicle Scams

NICB Senior Special Agent Scott Wagner is interviewed by KING5 about flooded vehicles in the northwest region. The Washington Department of Licensing is warning consumers about a flood vehicles damaged in the Texas and South Carolina floods that could get be repaired and then sold across the state.

Texas Flooding Damages Up to 10,000 Insured Vehicles

DES PLAINES, Ill. – The recent flooding in Texas means the end of the road for an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 insured vehicles that suffered water damage.

Salvagelot

Copart facility in Houston, TX

That’s the current estimate from Copart, a company that works on behalf of insurers to handle the vehicles damaged in catastrophes. About 2,500 cars, trucks, motorcycles, RVs and other vehicles have already been towed to one of Copart’s locations, a 200-acre processing facility in Houston.

After a disaster, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) works with its member companies, law enforcement and companies like Copart to identify the vehicles that have had an insurance claim filed and to process them for sale. All of the cars will be retitled with the Department of Motor Vehicles and the new title will indicate the fact that the vehicle has been flood damaged. Most of the vehicles are sold to parts companies who will dismantle them and re-sell usable parts that were not damaged by the flooding.

To see a video about the processing of flooded vehicles, click here.

The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is also entered into the NICB’s VINCheck℠ and the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) database.

Interior

Interior of a flooded Porsche

NICB’s VINCheck allows car buyers to see whether a vehicle has ever been declared as “salvage” or a total loss by an NICB member that participates in the program. Insurers representing about 88 percent of the personal auto insurance market provide their salvage data to the program. It also alerts users if a vehicle has been stolen and is still unrecovered. VINCheck is a free public service available here.

Keeping damaged cars out of the hands of unsuspecting buyers is a major focus of the industry. Unfortunately, some of the flooded vehicles may be purchased at bargain prices, cleaned up, and then taken out of state where the VIN is switched and the car is retitled with no indication it has been damaged.

NICB warns that buyers be particularly careful in the weeks and months after a major catastrophe. Vehicles that were not insured may be cleaned up and put up for sale by the owner or an unscrupulous dealer with no disclosure of the flood damage.

Buyers should have a vehicle checked by a reputable mechanic or repair facility before handing over any cash.

Consumer Resources

* For a free brochure with tips to avoid post-disaster fraud, click here.

* For useful checklists, including how to spot flood and salvage vehicle scams and post-disaster contractor repair schemes, click here.

* For free consumer access to the vehicle salvage records of participating NICB member insurance companies who collectively provide 88 percent of the auto insurance in force today, access NICB’s VINCheck℠.

Texas Storms Leave Thousands of Vehicles Flooded

Houstoncars

Flood-damaged cars in Houston

DES PLAINES, Ill. – As Texas and parts of the South-Central U.S. recover from record-breaking rainfall and widespread flooding, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) stands ready to assist law enforcement agencies, insurance and car rental companies with identifying and cataloging water-damaged vehicles to keep them from being resold to unsuspecting consumers. Already, authorities estimate that thousands of vehicles may have been flooded. “Unfortunately, natural disasters bring out dishonest salvage dealers who don’t tell you that the vehicles they’re selling are heavily water-damaged,” said NICB President and CEO Joe Wehrle.

“Consumers need to know that these vehicles may appear advertised for sale without any indication that they were affected by the flooding. As always, buyers should be careful when considering a used vehicle purchase in the weeks and months following a disaster like this.”

NICB agents are already working with law enforcement and member companies to identify these damaged vehicles to help keep would-be buyers from becoming fraud victims.

A History of Helping When Disaster Strikes

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago this August, NICB agents worked side by side with law enforcement officials to inspect thousands of vehicles damaged by flood waters. As a result of that unprecedented effort, NICB established a first-of-its-kind consumer protection service known today as VINCheck. It allows car buyers to see whether a vehicle has ever been declared as “salvage” or a total loss by an NICB member that participates in VINCheck. Insurers representing about 88 percent of the personal auto insurance market provide their salvage data to the program. It also alerts users if a vehicle has been stolen and is still unrecovered. VINCheck is a free public service available at www.nicb.org.

NICB encourages those entities required by law to report flood-damaged vehicles to the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) which currently includes information on 96 percent of all U.S. vehicles. Currently, 44 states report data to the system which contains approximately 20 million salvage or total loss records.

Potential for Fraud

In the weeks ahead, consumers should be on the lookout for other post-flood fraud schemes such as towing companies that try to pressure them into using their service and then charge exorbitant towing and storage fees. In addition, homeowners in disaster areas should be alert to the potential for fraud by unscrupulous contractors and home repair businesses. “Fraud is an unfortunate reality in post-disaster environments,” said Wehrle. “As the initial recovery in Texas gets underway, fraudsters are already scheming to converge on the affected areas in order to scam disaster victims out of their money while promising to do repairs. The last thing victims of disaster need is to be victimized again.”

Consumer Resources

* For a free brochure with tips to avoid post-disaster fraud, click here.

* For useful checklists, including how to spot flood and salvage vehicle scams and post-disaster contractor repair schemes, click here.

* For free consumer access to the vehicle salvage records of participating NICB member insurance companies who collectively provide 88 percent of the auto insurance in force today, access NICB’s VINCheck.