American consumers – about a million of them already – have been victimized by odometer mileage fraud costing $760 million a year, according to a company that monitors the losses.
Carfax Vehicle History Reports announced this week that its research, the first new evidence in more than a decade, shows more than 190,000 cars across the nation have their odometers rolled back every year.
That equates to the three-quarters of a billion dollars in lost value, unexpected repairs and other losses.
The states with the highest number of incidents are California, Nevada, Massachusetts, New York and Texas.
"Odometer fraud is a calamity for car buyers," Larry Gamache, communications director for the organization, said in a statement. "There are serious problems that can arise from a rollback. Older, deteriorating parts lead to unexpected repairs while unperformed maintenance for the true mileage may compromise the safety and performance of these cars.
"Not to mention, each victim loses thousands of dollars because they pay much more than these cars are really worth. This new data is a clear warning that consumers everywhere need to be on the lookout for odometer rollbacks and protect themselves when buying used cars," he said.
The fraud of rolling back the odometer and selling the car for more than it's worth has been around for generations.
It causes people to sometimes pay thousands of dollars more than the car is worth and endure costly repairs.
Christopher Basso, the public relations manager for Carfax, which has created an online resource that allows consumers to research a vehicle's history, recently discussed the problem with WND.
He said odometers on newer cars are easier to modify than on older cars that have analog odometers. The new digital displays in late-model cars can be changed simply by connecting a diagnostic computer to the vehicle, dialing up the desired mileage reading and clicking.
"It is a different game, but essentially the end is still the same," he said. "People end up ripped off for thousands of dollars."
The average loss in such scenarios, he said, is about $4,000.
He said such vehicles often are found in online used car sales ads, typically posted by private sellers. But they also occasionally show up at dealerships.
The best prevention is to work with a trusted dealership and have a known mechanic check over a vehicle. Also, there's the online Carfax VIN check process, which draws on millions of online records.
Other recommendations include checking that a vehicle's wear is consistent with the odometer reading, asking the seller for service records and being alert for "too good to be true" deals.
The organization warns that the majority of rollbacks have at least 50,000 miles removed from the vehicle's odometer, and most of the vehicles are in the range of 14 or 15 years old.
"Professional con men likely are taking advantage of longer vehicle lifespans and readily available devices to dupe unsuspecting consumers," the organization reported.
The organization created its Vehicle History Report process in 1986 and now has 12 billion vehicle records from more than 77,000 sources.