BOSTON (CBS) – New electronic devices are making odometer fraud easier than ever and the I-Team found thousands of unsuspecting buyers in Massachusetts are walking right into that trap.
That is exactly what happened when Morgan Andrews bought a car to commute from her home in Plymouth to classes at Bridgewater State College. She looked seriously at 10 different cars and had her heart set on a 2010 Ford Escape.
“It would be good in the snow,” she recalled thinking about the small SUV before she bought it.
She really liked the way it looked and the way it felt when she was driving it. Her father was thinking more practically.
“The biggest thing was low miles,” he said.
The Ford had 47,000 miles and both Morgan and her dad thought it was a good deal. But the I-Team learned it wasn’t such a great deal after all.
We showed Morgan and her dad service records that reveal the odometer on Morgan’s car jumped from 65,707 miles back to 47,049 a few months before she bought the car, a difference of more than 18,000 miles.
“Wow,” her dad said. “That’s fraud.”
Chris Basso, a spokesperson for Carfax, agrees. Carfax is a service that tracks sales and services histories of millions of cars. The company estimates there are some 40,000 cars on the roads in Massachusetts that have potentially had their odometer rolled back. Tampering with odometers is a felony under federal law.
“Something is going on in Massachusetts,” Basso said. “People are not looking out for it. They are being duped.”
Part of the problem, according to Basso, is the myth that digital odometers cannot be compromised as easily as the old analog versions. But there are dozens of online videos demonstrating how a simple device, available online, can plug right into the car’s computer and turn back the odometer instantly.
Virginia Hicks of Dorchester was stunned when the I-Team told her the 2002 Acura she was paying for had a lot more miles on it than she thought. The odometer read 157,000 miles when she bought it in March. But service records show it had 226,000 miles back in 2013.
Walter Lewis of Boston thought he was buying his Honda Accord this past spring with 100,900 miles, but the Carfax report shows it had 187,000 back in the summer of 2013. Lewis told the I-Team that he felt cheated.
The I-Team went to the dealer who sold Morgan her car looking for some answers. The records indicate the odometer was rolled back well before it ended up in his lot, but we wanted to know why he was selling a car with odometer issues. The owner would not talk to us on camera, but he told us he used a different vehicle history report when he bought the car at auction. The report did not show any signs of trouble with the odometer. After our visit, the dealer came to an agreement with Morgan and her dad.
Both Walter and Virginia are still trying to figure out how to resolve their rollback issues.
“I worked for this money, so this is a problem,” Virginia said.
It is a problem for her and for thousands of other Massachusetts car owners who don’t really know what they are driving.