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November 2005

Wading Through the Floods: Damaged Cars, Charity Scams

Hurricane Car Scams. Are you in the market for a new or used car? If so, be careful of cars that were damaged by Hurricanes Katrina or Rita. According to press reports, tens of thousands of cars in dealers’ lots were flood-damaged and it’s likely the cars’ electrical systems have been corroded by floodwaters. Normally, the dealers’ financial losses are covered by insurance. However, the cars aren’t always destroyed; some are purchased for resale by auto brokers.

Most states require flood damage to be noted on a car’s title, but if the damaged car is moved out of state, it may be sold without the full and correct title information. Many states like Wisconsin allow dealers to sell damaged cars that may not be legal to operate on our highways.

Wisconsin law provides some protection if you buy the car from a dealer, but not if you buy from a private party. According to state law, dealers must display what is known as the “Wisconsin Buyers Guide” window sticker on the car. The guide should indicate how the car was used; any title brands noting whether the car was rebuilt, flood damaged, or brought back under the state Lemon Law; and the condition of the car and its safety equipment. Be aware that the dealer is not required to take the car apart to check it before it is sold to the consumer.

State law only requires the dealer to tell you about existing car damage it detected, so you should have the car checked out by a trusted mechanic before you buy. I strongly recommend you protect yourself by buying the car’s history report from www.carfax.com prior to signing on the bottom line. The report will cost you $19.95 and may save you much more down the road.

Hurricane Charity Scams. Many of us have contributed to hurricane relief through our church, workplace, civic organizations, or in response to direct fundraising drives by various charities. But federal and state consumer protection agencies warn us to be careful when contributing because thieves are attempting to take advantage of our generosity. The FBI is investigating a number of websites being used to impersonate legitimate fundraising and charitable relief organizations. You should never click on any link in an e-mail solicitation; you may end up at a site that looks authentic but is really operated by an identity thief. The Wisconsin Better Business Bureau website, http://www.wisconsin.bbb.org, lists legitimate charities and their websites.

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