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Full Service Mystery – The Used Car Scam that Could Cost You Thousands

Sean O'Meara 19/02/2013 09:05:39

Full Service Mystery – The Used Car Scam that Could Cost You Thousands

It's a staple of the used car advert, an assurance that a car has been maintained, cared for and loved with no expense spared. But an investigation by Watch My Wallet has revealed that a full service history may not be worth the paper it is written on. In fact, it may be concealing a lifetime of dangerous neglect.

  • Fraudsters acquire genuine service books from main dealers, including BMW, Ford and Nissan.

  • RAC mechanic admits creating fraudulent service histories for his own cars.

  • Online scammers offer "bespoke service histories," complete with main dealer barcodes, stamps and genuine service books.

  • Stamps acquired online for £25 after going missing from dealerships.

  • BMW aware of service books being used for organised crime.

  • Books used to con people into buying stolen and "clocked" cars.

A full, dealer approved service history can add hundreds, sometimes thousands to the value of a car. Privilege Insurance estimates that a complete, main dealer service history adds between £1,000 and £1,500 to the value of a prestige car, such as a BMW or Mercedes. More importantly, a service history should provide peace of mind for rightfully wary car buyers.

SAM_9897But unscrupulous car dealers have found an easy way to create fake service histories that dupe consumers into buying potentially dangerous, poorly maintained second hand cars, thinking they have been regularly serviced by an approved dealer - and the dealers know it's happening.

Left: A fully stamped, but blank main dealer service book. All we need to do is add a fictional maintenance record.

Missing Service Stamps

A mechanic at a BMW main agent in Scotland, who didn't wish to be named, explained just how easy it is to create a fake service history for any car.

"It's commonplace for stamps to go missing. In theory, the stamps are key to the service history. You can legitimately buy a blank book from the parts department, and write what you want in it. That's not illegal. If you then manage to stamp up the book, with a stamp you've "acquired" from god-knows-where, you can easily falsify a history."

Gavin Ward, a BMW spokesman, told us.

"Anyone can buy a service book but you would have to show relevant documentation showing you were an owner of the BMW you were seeking the booklet for, such as a V5 and proof of identity.

"There would not be a reason for anyone to purchase multiple books, unless they were very careless or were the unfortunate victim of a break-in. It's our policy not to sell service books to people without the relevant documents."

How We Got Our Fake Service Histories

We found one Liverpool based fraudster, who introduced himself as Steve, to enquire about made-to-order service histories. He assured us he could get multiple service books from his main dealer contacts.

We ordered blank service books, with dealer stamps for a 2004 Ford Focus, a 2000 BMW 3 Series and a 2003 Nissan Primera. Without regular servicing, cars of this age would be prone to a range of potentially dangerous and expensive mechanical faults.

SAM_9873

Left: Genuine main dealer service books, with holograms, barcodes and other reassuring features.

The fraudster offered us a choice between completed service books or books with stamps but no other writing. We opted for stamped, but otherwise blank books to which we could add records of reassuring and valuable maintenance work, such as timing belt checks, oil filter changes and new brakes.

Within minutes we received a quote for the service books, one of which even came with a genuine dealer barcode sticker. The BMW was priciest, at £60, the Ford book cost £45 and the Nissan £35 plus £10 for recorded delivery.

6

The whole deal was conducted via text message and email.

The following day, we were contacted by the seller, who asked what mileage we wanted the service books stamped to, enabling us to create a service history for a car that had been clocked, a practice where the odometer is tampered with to show a lower mileage. This also added another layer of authenticity to the document, as a car's mileage governs how many stamps its book is likely to have.

As well as asking for mileage, the seller asked us a series of questions about the cars, in order to help us to create the most authentic service history possible. He told us he had stamps from dealerships all over the country and advised us to use stamps from dealerships in areas where the car had been registered. This way, our fabricated service history would match up with the history of registered owners for that car.

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Here we are writing in a history of fictional maintenance for a BMW 3-Series into a stamped official main dealer service book.

What is the Trade Doing to Protect the Integrity of Service Histories?

We asked BMW what they do to prevent fraudsters obtaining their books.

 "BMW is aware that individuals involved in organised crime do try and gain service books as a way of adding legitimacy to a stolen vehicle," Said Gavin Ward.

"As such we are always upgrading facets of car security for added peace of mind for BMW customers."

The value a service history adds to a car's resale value enables dealers and their approved garages to charge a premium to service a car. Even compared to pricey national chains such as Halfords (£235 for a major service) and Kwik Fit (£225 for MOT and most expensive service), main dealer services are expensive. But dealers are only now moving to protect the integrity of the service histories that motorists rely on.

Cost of Single Service vs  Fabricated Service History

  • BMW Value Service(one stamp in book) - £399

  • Genuine BMW service book history with nine dealer stamps from fraudster - £60

  • Ford Service(one stamp) - £265

  • Genuine Ford service book, with ten stamps and dealer barcode sticker from fraudster - £45

  • Nissan Service(one stamp) - £323.11

  • Genuine Nissan full history with six dealer stamps from fraudster - £35

Linda Robinson, spokesperson for Nissan commented:

"A stamp in the service book is not always proof that a service has been carried out. Since Sept 2010 we operate a system where services carried out at a franchised dealer are registered on our warranty system. This provides a service record for the vehicle and registers the car for 12months free RAC cover.

BMW  spokesperson Gavin Ward added:

"We are already in the process of introducing an Electronic Service Book which will allow owners to view the service history of their vehicle by entering the vehicle identification number in a protected area of a BMW Intranet."

Bmw History Fake

The dealers mentioned on the stamp may have no idea their name is being used fake for service histories, but the brands themselves are already trying to eradicate service book fraud.

After receiving the fake service histories, we contacted the seller again to discuss the purchase of main dealer stamps, in order to make our own fraudulent service books.

He advised us that each BMW dealership used its own stamp, so we would need one stamp per dealership to create an authentic service history. But other manufacturers, including Ford, use a variety of stamps bearing their trademark, with no system in place to help buyers identify incorrect service stamps.

Independent Garages are Involved Too

It's not just main dealer service histories that are open to abuse. Independent service histories can easily be faked too.

Watch My Wallet spoke to an RAC mechanic, who didn't want to be named.

"A service history means nothing. I service my own car and I do it to the manufacturer's standard, using manufacturer parts. But I don't have a commercial garage, so I can't stamp the book. I get a friend at a local garage to stamp it. He knows that I do the work correctly, so he doesn't mind putting his name to it. It's so easy to fake a service history that I would assume any service book is fake unless there is a receipt for every piece of work on there."

Service History Advice

  • Low mileage plus high wear and tear is a big red flag. If the driver's seat is threadbare on a 60k car, be suspicious.
  • Brand new pedal rubbers (the tops of the foot pedals) on an old car might be covering up tell tale wear and tear.
  • People tend to keep receipts for expensive maintenance, like timing belt repairs. Only trust a service if it comes with receipts.
  • Inspect the ink in the service book. If the stamps are all the same colour, be suspicious. Ink fades over the years, so older stamps should be lighter than newer ones.
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Sean O'Meara is editor of Watchmywallet.co.uk

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