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Car scams: Some you see and some you don’t

Remember when every used car on the lot “was owned by a little old lady who only drove it to church and back each Sunday?” The biggest frauds were turning back the odometer so 140,000 miles magically became 40,000 miles — and tossing out that little old lady story.

Times have changed, defenses have changed, and, sadly, offenses have also changed. Where there’s a will, there’s a way and salesmen are hungry just like everybody else.

Here are some of the recent auto scams that could affect you:

1. Airbags — Unscrupulous auto body shops that repair damage to an auto, after an accident in which the airbag was deployed, will be paid an average of $1,500 (by the insurance company) to replace the bag and then never bother to install it. Other bad boys will remove the airbag module during a routine maintenance job and then sell it. Either way, you might be left unprotected. Neither of these crimes is going away, although some states have enacted legislation providing tougher penalties.

2. Flood cars — There’s an entire industry that feeds off of “repairing” and then reselling vehicles that have been “totaled” after a natural catastrophe. Scavengers pick up late-model salvage for a song, cleanse both the car and the title (the latter by re-titling in a different state) and then sell the mess to an unsuspecting buyer. Electrical problems and mold growth do not make up for “I got such a good deal.” There are hundreds of thousands of these flood vehicles out there, so be careful of good deals that aren’t.

3. Staged Auto Accidents — Every day and in every locale, insurance crooks are looking for victims. The most common scenario is the “Swoop and Squat” setup. You, in your clean late model RED car (obviously insured) are minding your own business and driving down the road. The WHITE car in front of you has a few passengers and is driving fine. Suddenly a BLUE car passes you and the white car swoops in front of you both and slams on the brakes. White slams on his brakes and manages to avoid the rear-ender. You slam on your brakes but can’t stop fast enough and hit white just hard enough to cause some damage. Blue speeds off. The end result is a lawsuit against you for “injuries” sustained.by the occupants of the white car — who were actually partners with the blue car. The average Swoop and Squat brings in a quick $20,000 “settlement.” In a badly orchestrated “accident,” people can — and have — die(d).

4. Dishonest consumers are affecting YOUR insurance rates. Joe’s five-year-old, out-of-warranty Lexus has serious engine problems, so he arranges to have the car stolen and torched. His insurance company writes a check. John’s leased car has double the allowed miles and it’s going to cost him big time. Joe tells him what to do! Jeff’s truck is a gas guzzler and the bills are killing him and Jim is behind on his payments and his car is about to be repossessed. Jeff and Jim talk to Joe and John … and the beat goes on. In the end, because insurance is a shared pool of money, it’s you who pays for their crimes. Most large insurers have “Tip Lines.” Use ‘em.

Drop by the Pahrump Valley Times offices, 2160 E. Calvada Blvd., for a copy of Leslie Kim’s latest book “123 Main Street … the Scamming of America.” Only $19.95 while supplies last.

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