Monday, 31 October 2005 17:00

Insurers launch website to expose flood-damaged vehicles

A special online database consisting of motor vehicles and boats affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita is available for the public to search in an effort to protect consumers from fraudulent sellers, announced Robert M. Bryant, president and CEO of the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). 

Immediately after Hurricane Katrina passed through the Gulf Coast, special NICB catastrophe teams established two operations centers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Mobile, Alabama, to begin the process of identifying and cataloging vehicles affected by these hurricanes.

Working in partnership with the Louisiana State Police Insurance Fraud Unit and insurance company investigators, NICB created a database of vehicle identification numbers (VINs) and boat hull identification numbers (HINs).

Effective immediately, anyone can log on to www.nicb.org and, following the on- screen instructions, query a suspected VIN - free of charge - against NICB's regularly-updated database to find out if there is a match. The web page includes a notice that not all listed vehicles are totals, and that the consumer needs to have a competent professional check our the vehicle.

Bryant proclaims that never before has such a monumental undertaking been mounted in an effort to preclude innocent consumers from being victimized. "NICB's ability to bring this tremendous public service to the nation's consumers is due entirely to the support of the property and casualty insurance industry, Gulf Coast law enforcement, particularly the Louisiana State Police, and private salvage companies."

He added, "It is my belief that the cooperative spirit displayed by the public and private groups in our united response to prevent future Katrina and Rita-related fraud may very well set the standard against which future post-catastrophe anti-fraud efforts are measured."

Recyclers support effort

The Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA) is in support of NICB's efforts. It is estimated by the insurance industry that 570,000 vehicles have been damaged to varying extent by Katrina in the Gulf Coast region. Many of these vehicles will be classified as total loss vehicles by insurance companies.

"Title documents of insurance Total Loss Vehicles in many states can be washed and sold to unsuspecting legitimate businesses and consumers," says ARA President Jim Watson. "This is an existing problem which is magnified by the scope of the recent tragedy. The ARA applauds the move by the NICB to share the vehicle identification numbers of these Total Loss Vehicles with the public. ARA believes this is a first step to protect the motoring public."

ARA members continue to make Total Loss Salvage VIN information available to public as they done for the past five years. However, ARA does not believe that merely tracking Vehicle Identification Number on total loss vehicles affords the public the protection it deserves or law enforcement the tools it needs.

"The next step is to craft Federal Consumer Protection legislation which would track total loss vehicles by a Federal Certificate of Destruction which would cause uniform handling of the total loss vehicles throughout the United States," says Watson.

Recyclers concerned

There is real concern on behalf of recyclers about what is going to happen to the vehicles damaged by the storms, explained Herb Lieberman, a recycler with over 50 years experience in the automotive recycling industry.

"There exists a fear that these damaged vehicles are not going to be sold for parts or material recycling at all, but will find their way back into the stream of commerce - either inside or outside the United States - as motor vehicles," Lieberman continued.

"At the moment, the people with the ability to direct what happens to these vehicles are uninsured owners, self-insured owners or the insurance companies. Each has the right, even the obligation under the circumstances, to make sure these vehicles are processed in an environmentally safe manner.

"If it is determined that a vehicle cannot be successfully depolluted, it should be sent to the shredder with no parts put back into use."

Lieberman further commented that if vehicles can be safely dismantled for parts, then those parts can be put into the stream of commerce. Electrical parts that have come in contact with the water most likely are permanently compromised in their effectiveness. If salt water is involved, the electrical and sheet metal parts will be unusable.

Any vehicle that received flood damage to the interior above the rocker panels is highly suspect in its ability to be rebuilt properly to meet safety requirements.

"This is a unique situation," concluded Lieberman. "We have a moral, if not legal, obligation to see we are not exporting potential hazards to other nations."

Major burden

The idea of a massive influx of parts from cars damaged by the storm is not a positive thought for Mike Kunkel, American Auto Salvage, Texas. He expressed concern that parts coming from the Gulf Coast would need extra handling to insure that they were not contaminated - an unlikely situation at any rate.

Kunkel indicated he would not be looking to acquire parts coming from the Gulf Coast. He reiterated Lieberman's comments about parts being permanently compromised and simply unfit to be reintroduced into the recycled automotive parts system.


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