MyCarCheck.com – the UK’s No.1 vehicle provenance website – has saved millions of people from making an expensive used car mistake. As part of its mission to protect UK consumers it works closely with the police, the Association of Chief Police Officers’ Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (AVCIS) and the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators (IAATI).
Roger Powell, Divisional Head at CDL Vehicle Information Services Ltd (which owns MyCarCheck.com), commented: “Our business is all about providing up-to-date information to help secondhand car buyers make the right choices. We hold up to 60 fields of data per vehicle, including whether it has ever been scrapped, stolen, clocked or has any money owing on it. At the IAATI conference in May it was asserted that vehicle crime is the biggest enabler to other criminal activity in the UK. It is regarded as easy money. This means that, unfortunately, the problems highlighted below are likely to be just as prevalent in 2013.”
MyCarCheck.com reported that 17.37% of the Total Vehicle Pool are previous write-offs. That is one in every six vehicles, higher than the one in seven ratio which is often reported. If you add in ‘outstanding theft’ categories, the number of vehicles with some sort of insurance marker against them leaps to around one in four.
Roger Powell commented: “The Consumer Protection From Unfair Trading Regulations require sellers to inform customers of details that will affect their decision to buy, for example, if the vehicle is a previous write-off. However, we recently provided evidence to one consumer that a vehicle had previously been written-off. It turned out the seller had advertised at least eight other Cat-D write-offs without mentioning this aspect of their history.”
MyCarCheck.com highlighted two instances of ‘the paint scratch con’ in Surrey. The scenario is as follows: A thief or accomplice scratches a target car and leaves a note apologising for the damage and promising to send out a repair company. Someone duly turns up purporting to be from such a company, but their actual intention is to use a diagnostic device to clone the owner’s car key. The cover story is that a laptop needs to be plugged into the car’s Engine Control Unit (ECU) in order to establish the correct paint code. They then claim they don’t carry that particular paint and will need to return later, which they don’t. They now have all the information required to create a copy of the owner’s key and can return to steal the vehicle at any time.
MyCarCheck.com detailed how it helped Hertfordshire Constabulary to achieve a great result in Operation Ping Pong, which targets crooks involved in vehicle crime. Two Range Rovers stolen in Hertfordshire were seized by Bedfordshire police while being loaded into a sea container in Luton. It became clear that they had undergone basic cloning so they could go undetected until being shipped. Four people were successfully convicted and further container-loads of cars were recovered, some of which were already en-route to East Africa.
A spokesman for AVCIS commented: “There is an insatiable appetite for certain vehicles in Africa and the system for exporting by container ship is open to criminal abuse. This is increasing vehicle crime in the UK. If imported correctly into Africa a vehicle attracts a high degree of import duty, up to 80%, so illegally cutting out the tax represents a huge profit margin. At AVCIS we work closely with the shipping lines, freight forwarding companies and data holders, such as CDL, to identify containers carrying cars and to establish if these vehicles are what they declare to be.”
MyCarCheck.com warned that ‘the escrow con’ remains the No.1 tactic being used by criminals to target private used car buyers purchasing via internet sites. The latest twist is to claim that the car is being sold by the family of a UK serviceman on active service in Afghanistan.
The key giveaway signs are:
1) Is the vehicle described as being registered in the UK but currently abroad?
2) Is there a proposal to transfer funds to a holding account?
3) Is there any indication that the vehicle will be shipped to you?
If you answered ‘Yes’ to any of the three questions above, you will probably find it applies to all three. The escrow con, in which money is supposedly held by a third party, works like this: Consumers see an advert for a temptingly priced car and when they enquire about it they are told it is currently abroad, often in Spain. The seller suggests that you pay money to a ‘trusted’ third party who will hold it until the car is delivered. Don’t do it! The car will never arrive and the funds will not be returned.
MyCarCheck.com was praised by Greater Manchester Police for helping to crack what the Daily Mail described as “Britain’s biggest stolen car cloning racket”.
In an elaborate scam, vehicles taken during house burglaries were disguised as legitimate cars and then advertised for sale on eBay and Auto Trader. Each car had its number plates changed and the gang used stolen V5 vehicle registration documents and road tax discs, as well as the personal details of innocent people, forged MOT certificates, faked receipts and even a bogus service history.
Detectives traced more than 60 cars with a total value of £571,718 including BMWs, Audis, VWs and a Mitsubishi pick-up truck. Of these, 39 had been sold to innocent buyers, who paid a total of £280,000. Police estimate the racket earned the gang more than £1m.
Following the sentencing of 19 people at Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court, Supt Neil Evans of Greater Manchester Police commented: “Today’s result would not have been possible without the assistance of the Crown Prosecution Service, Auto Trader, the DVLA and CDL Vehicle Information Services.”
Figures issued by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that crime remained at the same level as in the last three years, with ‘vehicle-related theft’ making up 13% of the total.
Roger Powell commented: “You have to remember that the way these figures are compiled can hide the true extent of the problem. For example, cars taken during house burglaries – by simply nicking the keys and driving away – will go on the burglary figures and not in the vehicle crime category, because that is the primary offence. If we are just treading water in terms of the crime level you have to question whether it is right to cut the police budget so savagely. In particular, AVCIS has done a lot of good work in our sector, but I understand it is under threat.”
MyCarCheck.com received numerous enquires from consumers wanting to check BMWs following a BBC Watchdog programme highlighting how thieves can override keyless technology using a device available on the internet.
While praising the jailing of a Swindon mileage correction firm boss, MyCarCheck.com warned that clocking remains ‘absolutely rife’.
Roger Powell commented: “The sentencing of Colin Michael Ogle has put clocking back in the headlines and we applaud the work of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in achieving the conviction. Pursuing the clocker rather than the vehicle seller sends out a clear message to other mileage correction providers and hopefully the news coverage has raised awareness of the issue among the car buying public.
“The bigger picture is that clocking remains absolutely rife in the UK and this case is just the tip of the iceberg. An OFT market study in 2010 estimated that clocking could be costing UK used car buyers £580m a year. We think that is quite a conservative estimate.
“A member of our Glasgow call centre team recently dealt with an enquiry concerning an extreme case of clocking. The customer suspected that the mileage had been altered and he was actually not too surprised when we told him that, according to the last recorded figure, it had been wound back by around 100,000 miles. It turned out that for several years the car had been a taxi.
“Worse still, the customer had already purchased the vehicle. Such calls are always difficult because we prefer to prevent people from making an expensive used car mistake rather than confirming their worst fears. People question why we say ‘check before you buy’ because they think it is obvious, but the scenario I have just outlined is unfortunately very common.”
MyCarCheck.com reported that escrow scams and outstanding finance cases, where the car for sale actually belongs to a leasing company, are both on the increase.
Roger Powell commented: “Even if all the paperwork appears to be correct there is still the possibility of foul play. A substantial number of blank documents have been lost by or stolen from the DVLA over the last few years and these forms are like gold dust to criminals. To give an idea of the scale of the problem, the new-style red logbooks were introduced because there were so many blank blue V5Cs in circulation.”