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Herta Soman learned about curbstoning the hard way when she fell for a curbstoner's story and wound up paying $15,000 for a '97 Honda only to find out the warranties were void because the vehicle had been totaled nearly three (3) years earlier. "I was angry-I was in shock," said Soman after discovering through CARFAX that the car she purchased from a private seller had once been salvaged. "I was speechless-I feel like I'm driving a fraud."

Sadly, Soman is not alone. Law enforcement officials estimate that many of the cars advertised in classified ads or sold at the curb may be curbstoned, salvage cars for sale-vehicles sold by scam artists who pose as private sellers. These curbstoners often sell vehicles reputable dealers won't touch because of hidden problems, such as those with a salvaged car title, that can affect both safety and value. 

"Unfortunately, dishonesty sometimes is very profitable,"laments John Creel, Consumer Investigator. Creel has been busting curbstoners for years. He explains how this scam works. Curbstoners pick up bad cars-cars that may have spun odometers or salvage cars"for example-from junkyards or wholesale auctions, then pass them off to unsuspecting consumers as quality family cars.

"You don't tell him you got it a week ago, and you cleaned it up and now you're selling it," reveals a former curbstoner caught by Creel who requested anonymity. 'It's possible even to hide the fact that a car has been totaled by registering it or changing the title in another state," he adds. 

Consumer safety advocates say you can't be too careful when buying a used car today since rebuilt wrecks are more likely to fail in the event of another crash. It is especially dangerous when the driver has no idea the vehicle has been in a major accident before.

"Your chances of being in a serious auto crash in your lifetime are 1 out of 2," says Jackie Gillan of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. "Those are very high odds, so you want to make sure when you're buying a used car that it's not only going to provide the transportation you need, but is also going to provide you and your family with a safe driving environment."

Creel always recommends that consumers do their homework before buying "he says. Herta Soman, who-because of a curbstoner-got stuck with a now failing rebuilt wreck echoes Creel's sentiment. "I wish I would have done that prior to purchasing my car-it would have saved me a lot of grief, and a lot of money."

What Is Curbstoning?

Curbstoners are scam artists. State laws prohibit private citizens from selling multiple cars or vehicles other than those titled to them. Curbstoning involves individuals who ignore these laws meant to protect consumers from unlicensed, unscrupulous sellers. Frequently, they sell vehicles reputable dealers won't touch-those with hidden problems in their pasts-problems that can affect both the safety and the value of these vehicles.

All too often a consumer goes to a curbstoner thinking that they will get a better deal. They may feel less intimidated approaching an individual seller they perceive to be a neighbor versus a professional salesman. They may think they can't afford a vehicle from a reputable, reliable dealer. Unfortunately, whatever the reason for going to a private seller, shoppers who buy from them without checking the vehicle's history can end up paying too much money for a poorly maintained vehicle.

Guarding Against Curbstoners

Buy from a reputable dealer -- More than 25,000 dealers nationwide subscribe to CARFAX to ensure that the vehicles they sell on their lots are safe and reliable. Through CARFAX, consumers can find a dealer and even find a car locally that meets their needs. Most CARFAX dealer subscribers even offer free copies of the Vehicle History Reports to their customers-all you need to do is ask. But, if you still want to buy from an individual, there are ways to guard against curbstoners:

Ask to see the driver's license of the seller along with the car's title. If the name on the title doesn't match the name on the license, don't buy it.

Ask the seller for a detailed CARFAX Vehicle History Report to identify if the car has a salvage history, odometer fraud or flood damage. It will also show recent, frequent or excessive title transfers that may contradict the seller's story.

Take the car to a trusted mechanic. A professional inspection can uncover weld marks, water spots and uneven tire treads - all clues to a potentially unsafe vehicle.

Check the phone number. See if the same phone number appears in multiple ads, and make sure that you have a way to get back in touch with the car seller-not just a cell phone or pager number. Curbstoners often use them to change their locations without being caught. Always be a little leery if the price that seems just too good to be true.

What Local Dealers Can Do To Curb Curbstoning

1. Be informed - Knowing what curbstoning is and where curbstoners work in your area can help you combat them by educating consumers of this illegal practice, its risks and consequences. 
2. Check the classified ads - Learn what cars are most popular and in demand. Plan to increase the visibility of similar cars on your lot to make curbstoning less desirable in your community. 
3. Use CARFAX - If you aren't already, become a CARFAX Subscribing Dealer. It helps you keep undesirable vehicles out of your inventory and demonstrates to buyers that your cars are top notch.
4. Advertise - It seems simple, but a lot of dealerships are timid about placing ads. Advertising is a great way to reach consumers.
5. Participate - Getting involved in your local community lets consumers in your area get to know you, and builds a positive reputation for you and your business. Donations of cars to charity, volunteering at events and speaking to newspapers are all great ways to get involved and show your pride in the community.
6. Contact authorities - Finally, if you suspect there's a curbstoner in your area, contact the local authorities and encourage them to take action to protect consumers. These unlicensed sellers are breaking the law, plain and simple.

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