SCAM ALERT: "Title washers" deceive buyers about condition of used cars

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WICHITA, KAN. --- If you're in the market for a used car, listen up. A scam that masks dangerous problems with used cars for sale is on the rise.

Around 800,000 cars across the country are part of an illegal business practice called "title washing." That means a scammer will take a car that's deemed a total loss, also called a salvage title vehicle, fix it up, alter its documents and then sell it to a buyer without disclosing that information.

Premier Auto Sales is one of about 50 Better Business Bureau accredited car dealerships in the Wichita area.

"This business has been in operation for 21 years." General manager Andrew Chapman says part of that good standing is following the law when it comes to salvage titles.

"There has to be an "ST" on the window, which means salvage title. And if you're selling a salvage title car, you have to tell the customer the time of the purchase and you have to make them sign an agreement stating that this is a salvage title car on your contract," Chapman said.

For people who don't buy from a credible source, they might not receive that same honesty.

"What these scammers will do is get a hold of that title. Jump around from state to state, apply for a new title, and then basically the paper trail gets lost. So when they apply for that new title, the word "salvaged" isn't on there, and they can sell it and make it look like this car is a good, clean, used vehicle," said Denise Groene with the BBB.

Groene says down the road, customers could lose thousands of dollars and put their lives at risk if the car starts to fail.

She says the best way for drivers to protect themselves and their pocketbooks is to look up the vehicle's VIN number at

It's a service Chapman also stands by so he and his customers are ripped off.

"What Carfax is, anytime something happens to a car, it goes into a database, and you enter the VIN into the computer," he said. "It'll show me if the car has had any accidents, if it's been in any floods, if it's had any hail, and if it's a salvage title."

The BBB says this kind of fraud often pops up after there's a natural disaster, like flooding, when a large number of cars are damaged beyond repair.

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