Criminal car concerns: Thousands of vehicles rolling on Mass. roads with rolled-back odometers

In seconds, criminals can make the odometer in a used car read any number they want — and that could cost an unsuspecting buyer thousands of dollars.

The odometers in modern cars are essentially a computer that can be reprogrammed.

CARFAX says Massachusetts is 16th in the country in odometer fraud, with 31,900 cars on state roads with rollbacks right now.

A Speedometer company technician demonstrated how quickly crooks can make a used car seem a lot more valuable than it really is.

“So we got 150,000 miles on the odometer right now. I got one, two, three — press the button and (it) does a quick flash. And now we’re already at 50,000 miles. It’s that fast right now,” Ingle said, showing how easy it is to change an odometer.

Ingle showed him a 2009 Chevy HHR. To anyone who’d check the dash, it looks like a car with a third of the wear and tear it actually has.

“It can cost you thousands and thousands of dollars, not to mention headache and heartache over the lifetime of ownership of a vehicle,” said Emilie Voss from CARFAX.

Voss says they’ve seen odometer fraud increasing, particularly as the price of used cars has been skyrocketing.

“We know we’re seeing the numbers trend in the wrong direction,” Voss said.

The equipment to change an odometer would have cost criminals $10,000 a few years ago. It is now only a couple hundred.

But the average price increase from the fraud is about $4,000 a car.

“Literally in the matter of 5 or 10 seconds, he’s able to change the value of that vehicle by about $3,000,” Ingle said.

There’s no way to spot the change to the vehicle’s systems. But you can check the free Carfax report for any used car purchase to flag issues. You also should take a used car to a mechanic before buying.

“You want to take it for that independent inspection. So it costs about 100 bucks. It takes a little time. I know a lot of people like to skip this step, but really a trained mechanic is going to look for a lot of things, including to see if the wear and tear on the vehicle doesn’t match up to that reading on the odometer. And that’s critical,” Voss said.

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