The recent floods in Texas and the South-Central U.S. could lead to a stream of water-damaged vehicles being dumped on unsuspecting consumers in the used-car market, the National Insurance Crime Bureau warns.

Thousands of vehicles may have been flooded, NICB officials said, and some unscrupulous owners or salvage dealers may hide the damage in order to get rid of them for quick cash.

“Consumers need to know that these vehicles may appear advertised for sale without any indication that they were affected by the flooding, said NICB President and CEO Joe Wehrle. “As always, buyers should be careful when considering a used vehicle purchase in the weeks and months following a disaster like this.”

The NICB is supported by more than 1,100 property and casualty insurance companies and self-insured organizations.

The NICB offers a free consumer-protection service called VINCheck. VINCheck is a database that car buyers can access to find out if a vehicle has been declared salvage or a total loss by a participating NICB member. Additionally, consumers can learn if a vehicle has been reported as stolen and unrecovered. VINCheck is available at www.nicb.org.

The NICB also is warning consumers to be vigilant for other types of flood-related fraud schemes. These include towing companies that charge exorbitant towing and storage fees, and unscrupulous home-repair contractors.

“Fraud is an unfortunate reality in post-disaster environments,” said Wehrle. “As the initial recovery in Texas gets underway, fraudsters are already scheming to converge on the affected areas in order to scam disaster victims out of their money while promising to do repairs. The last thing victims of disaster need is to be victimized again.”

The NICB offers a number of consumer resources related to protection from fraud schemes:

Post-disaster fraud tips brochure

Checklist for spotting flood and salvage vehicle scams

Free consumer access to vehicle salvage records at VINCheck

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