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Beware of used vehicles -- they could be flood-damaged

Think you're getting a great deal on that used car? The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) has issued a fraud warning on vehicles that were uninsured during Hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma.

It's illegal to sell a flooded-out car without a salvage title, but some fraudsters have taken advantage of their own lack of insurance to avoid getting one.

When Kenton B. of Houston recently bought a 2012 Chevy Silverado, he thought he was getting a good deal by paying about $4,000 less than the going rate. Unfortunately, he experienced problems right away, even though he bought it from a dealership and it had a clean title.

A Houston-area investigative reporter found out what had happened. The pickup had been in Florida when Hurricane Irma hit but, although it was owned by a dealership, it was not insured. That meant that no insurance claim was made that would have created a paper trail. No salvage title was issued, and no entry about the flood was listed in the VINCheck database consumers used to check for issues like prior accidents or floods involving vehicles they're buying.

Ultimately, the pickup was sold at auction and a Houston dealership bought it. That's where Kenton B. found it at such a good price.

When Kenton took it to a mechanic, he was told the pickup appeared to have been flooded. The NICB and the investigative reporter accompanied it to another mechanic who also found evidence of flood damage. For example, electronics were damaged, there was water and moisture under the floor carpets and there was sand under the bed liner. Someone had used spray paint to conceal rust on the undercarriage.

Kenton hired a lawyer to help him get his money back, and that's what you should do if you discover you have been fraudulently sold a flood-damaged car or truck.

Here are the NICB's tips for how to spot flood-damaged vehicles:

  1. Look for water stains or damage on the vehicle's carpeting, upholstery and seat belts
  2. Look for rust on metallic items such as screws
  3. Remove the spare tire and check behind it for water damage
  4. Look for mud or evidence of submergence in the engine compartment
  5. Look under the dashboard for moisture or mud
  6. Check for signs of water around the headlights and taillights
  7. Test the operation of electronic components like windows, blinkers, and the radio
  8. Check for a moldy or muddy odor
  9. Have the vehicle checked by a trusted mechanic for hidden evidence of flooding and diagnostic test

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