Vehicle Odometer “Clocking” Fraud

Fraud takes many forms. Always there is some form of deception involved. With vehicle clocking, unscrupulous car dealers will sell cars with car mileage that seems to be much lower than it really is. It is not an offence to change the figures shown by an odometer, however it is an offence to sell a vehicle which has been changed in this way without telling the customer. It used to be very easy for anybody to manually change an old fashioned dial within the speedometer, now these are digital and a bit more knowledge is required. However, there are many companies advertising on the Internet who will perform this service for you. Many will warn you of the consequences of failing to inform the next buyer of your car, some will not!

I was recently involved in a case involving the prosecution of somebody for the offence of clocking a handful of cars over a period of about two years.  Old vehicles with reasonable bodywork and interiors but with very high mileage were purchased cheaply and sold on for a healthy profit once their odometer had been “wound back” to a more respectable distance.

The person was convicted and served several months in jail, eventually being released on licence. Then, as the offences were several in number, were committed over a period of time and involved transactions greater than £5,000 in total, the Crown pursued a confiscation order under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.  This resulted in the loss of the family home, a couple of investment properties and other assets that were owned.

Is this a little harsh for someone who has perhaps made £10,000 extra profit by selling a dozen or so cars with mileage that has been reduced a bit?  Prison… then to lose everything you have, plus the possibility of a further default sentence if you are unable to pay the amount of confiscation benefit ordered by the Court?

Well you might think so until you consider a few facts. Approximately 1 car in every 40 is reckoned to be “clocked” – some 700,000 vehicles in the UK. This figure may be on the low side since many vehicles clocked before they are 3 years old (before the requirement for an MOT) will never be discovered. In the case of very high mileage cars, these can be very dangerous especially if only the minimum service needed for the annual MOT is carried out.

The offender in the case above had lived his life “off grid” as far as the authorities were concerned. This meant that he never declared his income for tax purposes and his lifestyle and bank accounts showed substantial earnings and wealth.  As he kept no business records, the clocking of the dozen or so cars were only the tip of potential criminal activity that at least included large scale tax evasion. A couple of decades of high living at the expense of the rest of us tax payers probably merits a much harsher sentence than was received?

The incidence of fraud goes far beyond the large Ponzi schemes and credit card identity frauds that are widely reported in the press. Many aspects of our daily life bring us into contact with fraud and sharp business practice. We are always being targeted to buy things we do not want, with the methods being used sometimes very illegal.

For example, I have a domain name www.mark-jenner.com that I use for my business of providing forensic accounting services. The domain must be renewed annually for about £10. This I do regularly through the reputable company that also provides my hosting services. Every now and again I receive a communication just like the one I received this week in the form of a very reputable looking email invoice reminding me of the imminent expiry of my current annual domain registration – the invoice for $75 for one year was shown as “Net 15” indicating that I was supposed to pay it in 15 days!

I have no doubt that if I had clicked through the “Secure Online Payment” link that I would have at the very best paid money that I did not need to pay. At worst I might provide payment details to crooks who would take even more.

The annoying thing is that looking closely at the email – there is the “get out” clause:

“…your registration includes search engine submission for MARK-JENNER.COM for 1 year. You are under no obligation to pay the amount stated above unless you accept this offer by Apr 13, 2011. This notice is not an invoice. It is a courtesy reminder to register MARK-JENNER.COM for search engine listing so that customers can locate you on the web…”

So in fact this company is only offering me the service of submitting my domain to search engines! Yet it uses the fact that my domain registration is expiring to do this. The two are not connected in any way – but if I was a busy administrator in my business with the authority to pay such small bills, I might just have done so automatically. As I own my business, and have responsibility for promoting my own web site (including submission to search engines etc) I was not impressed by this solicitation. Domain re-registration due dates plus ownership details (including address, which serves to make the “invoice” look more authoritative) are freely available from the domain registrars and such solicitations can be sent out in bulk automatically by email. There are bound to be some who take up the offer and I am at a loss to know what value for money they might receive – if nothing illegal has really been done.

When carrying out invetsigations into companies, the Department for Innovation and Skills are often at a loss deciding what legislation has been contravened. In these cases it is often enough to say that an organisation has “not been operating in the public intererst” so that the High Court can order the company to be closed down.

About Mark Jenner

Mark Jenner is an experienced forensic accountant specialising in fraud and white collar criminal matters. He provides independent financial investigation and expert accounting witness services to police forces, fraud regulators and criminal defence lawyers, also providing assistance and solutions to organisations embroiled in financial disputes.

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