ABC7 I-Team Investigation
CHICAGO (WLS) -- It's an old school scam that's new again, costing you money and risking your safety on the road - the ABC7 I-Team is exposing the increase in odometer rollbacks.
The Secretary of State's Office says it busted a married couple in an undercover operation trying to sell a car with a tampered odometer. Investigators and auto experts say this is just one example of a problem that's on the rise and racking up victims.
With how-to videos on YouTube and techy tools for sale online, it's easier than ever for crooks to roll back an odometer before selling a used car, mostly because everything is digital now.
Jason Sinks, of Palos Heights, thinks he's an odometer fraud victim.
"I thought it was some kind of mistake but it wasn't," he said.
Sinks admits he didn't do enough research before buying his 2003 Audi online about a year and a half ago, but he was surprised when his mechanic found several problems with his vehicle.
"Sometimes it wants to start, sometimes it doesn't," he said.
When he checked online, a Carfax report showed a potential odometer rollback in 2006, from 125,000 miles to 58,000. But the I-Team found that running a report on a vehicle may not catch everything.
"I spent all this money on this vehicle, I thought I had a real nice car," said Jeffrey A. Nelson.
Nelson ordered a Carfax report before buying his SUV at a dealership and it didn't show a mileage rollback.
But after the purchase, his mechanic discovered this: an Illinois Emissions Test Record showing the SUV had 217,000 miles in 2010! But when he bought it in 2012, it only had about 92,000 miles.
And recently, Carfax changed its report, which now shows a separate potential rollback.
According to a new Carfax study, incidents of odometer tampering have doubled in Illinois in the last two years from 20,000 to 40,000. Nationwide, numbers have shot up from 1 million to 1.5 million.
"If they have the right equipment, they can hook it up the car's on-board computer system and manipulate the miles," said Secretary of State Investigator Glenn Florkow.
Florkow explained how easy it can be done, standing near a vehicle that was seized after a recent sting.
Authorities charged a couple from the city's Southwest Side, Larisa and Petru Laba, with fraudulent tampering and three other related misdemeanors.
Police received a tip from the previous owner, who accused the Labas of not wanting the true mileage recorded on the bill of sale or the title.
"He knew it was wrong and it infuriated him that someone would do that," Florkow said.
Investigators say the Labas tried to sell it and that they found Labas' Craigslist ad for the car in question. It says the vehicle has about 68,000 miles, but mechanic records and a picture from that tipster show the vehicle had 180,000 miles.
Florkow responded to the ad and says Larisa Laba tried to sell the car with the altered mileage.
ABC7's Jason Knowles: "The Secretary of State's Office says you were trying sell a vehicle with a rolled back odometer - can you talk about that?" (person mumbles and slams door).
Investigators say Larisa Laba pleaded guilty to one count of fraudulent tampering. The couple and their attorney also declined to comment at a recent court hearing where Petru Laba pleaded not guilty.
Florkow says they likely replaced the entire display with another one from a junkyard.
The I-Team also asked Carfax about why its initial report failed to show a rollback issue on Nelson's vehicle.
Carfax says its reports are meant to be a guide, and that buyers need to first have a used car checked out by an independent mechanic. A mechanic may be able to spot issues that they'd normally only see on a high-mileage car.
If you think you've bought a tampered vehicle, learn more about your legal rights here.
You can also visit www.carfax.com/odo for more information.