OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter is urging Oklahomans to use extreme caution when purchasing a used vehicle that may have been damaged by Hurricanes Harvey or Irma.

Attorney General Hunter today sent a letter to the Oklahoma Tax Commission, to distribute to tag agencies statewide, urging administrators to be suspicious and vigilant in the transfer of vehicle titles from Texas and surrounding states entering the Oklahoma market and to carefully examine all out of state titles. 

According to news reports, up to one million vehicles are estimated to have been damaged by flood waters in the wake of the storms. 

Attorney General Hunter said the state has experienced this type of fraud before after past natural disasters and today’s letter and release of recommendations are designed to help Oklahomans looking to buy and to put criminals on notice. 

“Flooded cars are a ticking time bomb,” Attorney General Hunter said. “A car that has been cleaned up may run fine and even look fine, but in reality it is a matter of time before something goes wrong. When the electrical, mechanical and safety systems are exposed to water, it compromises the essential functions of the vehicle, putting families and those who share the road at risk.

“I encourage Oklahomans looking for used vehicles to use extreme caution. It’s unfortunate, but con artists view tragedies like we have seen recently as an opportunity to take advantage of others. We will pursue charges if they do this in our state.”

How the scam works

Attorney General Hunter said scammers will fix a water damaged car with aesthetic upgrades, masking them as an ordinary used car. Individuals will then obtain an out of state title, without divulging what has happened and transport the car far beyond the flooded region, where consumers may be less aware of what to look for.

Oklahoma statutes requires owners of a used vehicle entering the state from another state to complete a flood damage disclosure as part of the title process. However, if the seller’s out of state title shows no damage, the Oklahoma title won’t either, leaving the purchaser on their own.  

Recommendations when purchasing a used car

The Attorney General’s Office offers the following recommendations regarding what to look for when purchasing a used vehicle.

Always have a certified, independent mechanic inspect the car prior to purchase;

Get a report on the car;

Check the Vehicle Information Number (VIN) with the National Insurance Crime Bureau, here: https://www.nicb.org/theft_and_fraud_awareness/vincheck;

Purchase from a reputable seller. 

Signs of a flood damaged car:

Rust or corrosion under the hood on engine components and wiring;

Water in oil or transmission, check this by pulling the measuring sticks;

Water lines in the trunk;

Mud buildup in unusual places, like under the dashboard;

Mismatched upholstery and carpet combinations;

Rust on unpainted parts like bolts or door hinges;

Musty odors;

Be suspicious of any car being sold with a lost title.

For more consumer information when purchasing a used car, visit the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, here: https://www.vehiclehistory.gov/.

To report flooded cars being sold in Oklahoma, contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit at (405) 521-2029, or via email at consumerprotection@oag.ok.gov.