Hurricane Dorian and tropical storm Imelda have caused more than 17,000 vehicle flood claims were recently reported in Southeast Texas alone, according to the Insurance Council of Texas.
In fact, Imelda brought more than 30 inches of rains to portions of southeast Texas causing rising floodwaters, reminiscent of Hurricane Harvey.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) is cautioning all used car buyers — including commercial fleets — to beware of fraudsters who are selling damaged and flooded vehicles but presenting them as vehicles in good condition.
Buyers can take a number of steps to ensure they don't get duped, reports NICB. For example, when examining a used vehicle, be sure to check for water stains, mildew, sand or silt. Do a smell test as well — heavy aromas can be coming from cleaners the fraudster used to mask the odor problem of a flooded vehicle. It's always wise to have a trusted mechanic inspect the used vehicle as well.
Perhaps most importantly, consumers and fleets can take advantage of NICB's free tool called VINCheck that allows potential buyers to check a vehicle for red flags.
VINCheck came into being after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Katrina resulted in estimates ranging from 300,000 to 500,000 damaged vehicles. That’s when NICB created an online tool to access all the vehicle identification numbers (VIN) of damaged vehicles, resulting from claims data provided electronically by NICB member insurance companies. The challenge was to enable the general public to access the data while protecting each insurance company’s proprietary information.
In October 2005, after securing member-company authorization and support for the idea, NICB launched its Flood Vehicle Database. Now anyone anywhere could query a VIN — free of charge — to see if it had been damaged from Hurricane Katrina before they handed over any money.
The Flood Vehicle Database has been enhanced and expanded twice since its creation. In November 2007, the name changed to VINCheck.
The VINCheck service is unprecedented and has proved to be the most popular feature on NICB’s website — with more than 2.5 million page views since July 1, 2018. There have been more than 1.1 million VINCheck queries since Oct. 1, 2018.