The water is receding from Hurricane Dorian and Tropical Storm Imelda. Those events flooded vast areas of the East Coast and Texas.
In the wake of Dorian and Imelda, thousands of damaged and flooded vehicles are emerging, said the National Insurance Crime Bureau. NICB says that means fraudsters may start trying to scam innocent car buyers, selling them vehicles that have been impacted by flooding.
Because of that, NICB says that before purchasing a used vehicle, consumers should do their homework. That means acquiring accurate information about certain aspects of the vehicle's history.
To help consumers do that, NICB offers VINCheck. With that free tool, consumers can check a vehicle for “red flags.”
NICB designed the tool to help consumers determine if a car has been reported as stolen, but not recovered, said NICB vice president of communications Brooke Kelley. It helps determine if the vehicle has been reported as a salvage or total loss vehicle, she said.
The tool, Kelley said, “is a clear and easy way to protect consumers and one of the most utilized resources on our website.”
The story of VINCheck started in 2005. On Aug. 25 of that year, Hurricane Katrina made initial landfall in south Florida and hit New Orleans soon afterward. NICB personnel assisted state and local law enforcement and insurance claims professionals. Officials recognized the threat to consumers from a large number of flood vehicles that were in the area. NICB agents knew that many of these vehicles would reenter the market presented as adequate used vehicles.
However, NICB said, those vehicles “could potentially become rolling caskets for any unsuspecting buyer.”
The bureau worked to identify and catalog many of those abandoned vehicles before tow operators with bad intentions took them to locations where cosmetic surgery would present them as attractive vehicles priced well below market value.
NICB created an online tool to access all the vehicle identification numbers of damaged vehicles, an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 of them, resulting from claims data that NICB member insurance companies provided electronically. The bureau worked to enable the general public to access the data and at the same time protect each insurance company’s proprietary information.
The bureau secured member-company authorization and support for the idea and on Oct. 17, 2005 launched its “Flood Vehicle Database.” With the database, free of charge, anyone at any location could query a VIN to check for Hurricane Katrina damage before paying any money.
Since its creation, the bureau has enhanced and expanded the Flood Vehicle Database twice, changing its name to VINCheck in 2007. At that time, the database added total loss and salvage records. The next enhancement took place in June 2008 as the database provided access to unrecovered insured stolen vehicles.
NICB said the VINCheck service became the NICB website’s most popular feature, and it boasts more than 2.5 million page views since July 1, 2018. More than 1.1 million VINCheck queries have taken place since Oct. 1, 2018.
NICB applied lessons learned in response to Hurricane Katrina when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in 2017 and destroyed more vehicles than Katrina. The bureau said VINCheck handled that “crush of inquiries” well.
NICB added a place for users to describe their successes with VINCheck. A Gaithersburg, Md. resident was one of those successes. The resident looked at a car that the owner said had never been in a collision.
“I asked them multiple times about the history of the car and they stated that the car had never had an accident at all! I noticed some things in the car didn’t quite fit into place, and I'm so happy I found out about NICB! I would have been stuck with a bad car to use for school and work,” the Gaithersburg resident said.
“Testimonials from users demonstrate that VINCheck remains one of the industry's best methods of providing public safety and consumer protection,” said Kelley of NICB. “The information helps to prevent innocent people from being victimized through the purchase of damaged and potentially deadly used vehicles.”