Vehicle History Report Scams and How to Avoid Them
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A vehicle history report can give you a generally accurate glimpse into your car’s past — how it was maintained, records of accidents it's been in and the like. But errors can occur, and what's more, there are scams associated with these reports that target consumers buying or selling used cars.
Vehicle history report scams aren't common when you purchase a report from a major source, like Carfax or AutoCheck, or receive a report from a trusted car franchise or dealer. If you’re buying a car from a private-party seller or selling a car yourself, you could potentially be a victim of such schemes. Here are some different types of vehicle history report scams and how to avoid falling for them.
Outdated or incomplete reports
A vehicle history report from a trusted supplier like Carfax or AutoCheck generally includes accurate and up-to-date information regarding a car’s record of accidents. But there are times when important information is left out, accidentally or intentionally.
“A history report might not catch something because of the way they gather information,” says Brian Moody, executive editor for Autotrader. “If a person wrecks a car without insurance or no insurance claim is made and there’s no police report, this damage, fixed or not, will not show up on a history report.”
In such instances, or in the case of unreported minor accidents, an owner might purposefully withhold information to avoid higher insurance rates or to have a better chance of selling a car.
Moody adds that if you’re going through a private-party seller, it's also important to be aware that they may give you an older history report that was saved before damage to a vehicle was incurred.
When done purposefully, withholding details from a report is considered a scam. It limits the information you have about a car and could lead you to buy a damaged car for more than it’s worth.
How to avoid this scam: It’s important to make sure you're looking at the most current version of a history report that’s purchased or provided from a trusted source, especially if you’re buying a used car from an independent seller.
And even after viewing a report, it's not enough to make a decision about purchasing a car based on the vehicle history report alone. Make sure to have the car in question checked by a trusted and reliable mechanic. Pre-purchase inspections — also known as used-car inspections — typically include test drives and can cost anywhere between $100 to $200, which can end up saving you money in the long run.
Altered vehicle history reports
In addition to purposefully leaving out certain details, information can be altered or even removed from a vehicle history report, according to Patrick Olsen, executive editor for Carfax.
“We have seen private-party sellers and fly-by-night dealers who will use a substitute to the Carfax report or attempt to alter a Carfax report by cutting and pasting information,” he says.
This is more common when you don’t buy a car from a known franchise or large independent car dealer.
How to avoid this scam: If you’re purchasing from a private-party seller, be sure you are viewing an actual report and not a substitute from an alternate source. Vehicle history reports from viable providers will have in-depth information about a car — like its record of serious accidents, maintenance records, mileage, recall information and more — that an altered report might not.
And if you’re purchasing a car from a dealer, look out for red flags that might signal if the dealer is disreputable. For example, most dealers provide free vehicle history reports through subscriptions with trusted services. Dealers who refuse to show you a report or present an outdated one are typically not to be trusted.
Purchasing vehicle history reports from scam sites
It’s common for buyers to ask for vehicle history reports when purchasing a car. And as a seller, a request for one is normal and typically usual. But there are instances when a request from a potential buyer is linked to a particular scam, one that involves websites designed to steal your information.
In such cases, a potential buyer might contact a seller and ask them to purchase a vehicle history report from a specific and unknown site. Once a buyer is on the website, they may be prompted to enter personal information and a vehicle identification number, or VIN, and pay $20 for a report. Afterward, the seller won’t hear back from the buyer nor will they get a report.
In some instances, all the seller might incur is a $20 loss. But if you enter your personal information or the website captures other details like your address or payment card information, it can lead to a more serious issue, like identity theft.
How to avoid this scam: It’s important to buy reports from legitimate sites only. To be sure you’re getting one from a trusted source, you can go to the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System’s website, vehiclehistory.gov, which lists approved providers of vehicle history reports. Note that not all vehicle history reports will be available on the site and that there is information, like accident history, that isn't included in reports offered by some providers.
Tips to avoid vehicle history report scams
When purchasing or selling a used car, keep these key points in mind:
Purchase a vehicle history report from a reputable source if a private party seller doesn’t provide you with one.
Make sure you're viewing the most current version of a vehicle history report from a trusted provider, especially when buying a car from a private-party seller. Reports from viable sources will have thorough information about a car’s record of serious accidents, mileage, maintenance records, recall information and more.
Most dealers provide free history reports from reputable providers. If a dealer refuses to show you one when asked, they are usually not to be trusted.
Never click on unfamiliar links from a buyer or seller, or use unknown websites to purchase vehicle history reports.
After viewing a vehicle history report, get a pre-purchase inspection from a reputable mechanic.