Update from Scott Randolph

March 4th through 10th is National Consumer Protection Week

Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph is warning motorists to be aware of three common motor vehicle schemes during National Consumer Protection Week, which runs through March 10th. Randolph’s office administers motor vehicle services in Orange County, including the issuance of driver’s licenses, tags and titles.

“For criminals, motor vehicle fraud is a very lucrative business,” Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph said. “And it comes at the expense of the victim.”

VIN CloningVIN cloning is a sophisticated crime. Here’s how it works: A criminal steals a car. To hide the theft and sell the vehicle, the criminal takes a VIN number from another car – oftentimes a vehicle with the same make and model that was parked in a public parking lot – and creates a fake VIN plate that they install on the stolen vehicle.

Tax Collector Randolph said his office sees instances of VIN cloning each year that is typically discovered when the victim visits the Tax Collector’s office to title a recently-purchased car.

“Unfortunately, VIN cloning victims are really victimized twice,” Randolph said. “Not only does the victim typically lose the money they paid for the vehicle, but law enforcement also confiscates the cloned car. And if you took out a loan to buy the stolen car, you’re still legally responsible for those payments.”

Randolph said that car buyers should trust their instincts. If the price of a car for sale seems too good to be true, it could be a sign of a cloned vehicle. Consumers can also verify VIN numbers on the DHSMV website at services.flhsmv.gov/MVCheckWeb.

Odometer Fraud – Odometer fraud, also known as odometer rollback, is the illegal practice of altering a vehicle’s mileage reading to make it appear to have a lower total mileage, which increases the vehicle’s sale price. Criminals commit odometer fraud by disconnecting, resetting or replacing the odometer with one from another vehicle.

According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, a typical rollback alters a vehicle’s mileage by 40,000 miles, which increases the vehicle’s sale value by up to $4,000.

To avoid falling victim to odometer fraud, car buyers should:

  • Get a detailed vehicle history report;
  • Look to see that typical wear and tear matches the reported mileage. A true low mileage car should have the original tires and brakes; and
  • Inspect the odometer for tampering.

Flooded VehiclesUnder Florida law, vehicles flooded in Florida must indicate their condition on their title, but standards are not uniform across the country. That means a flooded vehicle from another state could be sold with a “clean” title in Florida.

While dealers are required to inform customers if a vehicle has been flooded, if you are buying a vehicle from a private individual, it’s important to follow these tips:

  • If the vehicle is titled in Florida, visit the state’s VIN check website at services.flhsmv.gov/MVCheckWeb;
  • Check the interior of the vehicle for a musty smell. If a car smells musty it was likely exposed to water;
  • Look under the vehicle for signs of rust or corrosion; and
  • Closely examine the interior of the vehicle for waterlines.