ROSWELL, Ga. -
Go shopping for a used car these days and one of the first things a salesperson will show you is the Carfax.
It's supposed to be a helpful, comprehensive report on the vehicle's history, accidents and all.
Unless it turns out to be a fake.
Arthur Watley told the Georgia Consumer Protection office he was shown a Carfax with "fradulent information" from Used Imports Auto in Roswell. He bought a 2008 BMW 535I there, the eighth BMW he's ever owned.
It's the only one he truly hates.
"I said, well, let me see the Carfax," Watley remembered. "They brought the Carfax out. My wife and I looked at it. It said one owner."
That was in November, 2015.
But we got the Carfax for that BMW straight from the Carfax website. It showed Watley is actually the fifth owner not the second. And guess what it says at the top of the page?
Watley bought a used BMW listed as a Lemon.
"If I'd seen that I'd already known I had a bad car," he complained. "There's no way I would have driven off the car lot."
In his complaint, Watley accused Used Imports Auto of selling him a car based on "fraudulent information," saying "there was no bad information on the carfax they showed my wife and I."
With the Lemon warning on the Carfax report, Watley says when he tried to sell it he could get only $4000. He paid $16,000.
"I don't know how they done it, but with technology today, if you can make money certainly you can make a new Carfax," Watley pointed out.
Can a Carfax really become a Carfake? We emailed Used Imports Auto as just another customer, asking about a 2014 Nissan Pathfinder advertised on their website. We already got the Carfax on our own. It showed the Pathfinder suffered "severe damage" from an accident in Alabama last year.
But we received a different Carfax emailed to us by someone named Shairz of the "Used Imports Auto sales team." One of the pages had information cut off at the bottom.
And instead of "Severe Damage," the Carfax the dealership sent us said only "accident reported."
Instead of "Major damage" reported to right front, right rear, and right side, the Used Imports Auto Carfax said it was just minor damage... and only to the right front.
On sale for 17 grand.
So we checked out that 2014 Nissan Pathfinder in person, one of our producers asking about that supposed minor accident on the Carfax they emailed us.
Producer: "So this comes straight from Carfax? Official?"
Used Imports Auto Salesman: "Yeah. We don't. I mean, I don't think that we have the way to move them around so obviously yes, it comes from the Carfax."
We took our evidence of two different Carfaxes to Used Imports Auto floor manager Sonny Khattak. He said he felt bad about what we found.
"I actually feel really bad."
He was disturbed, too.
"I mean, if that's the truth, that is disturbing."
"Is it possible someone in your company is faking these Carfaxes, taking out damaging information?" I asked.
"I'm a computer illiterate," he answered. "What I do is what I see right here and that's what I go with."
He pointed out that the Used Imports Auto website lets customers click on the Carfax themselves, the link going straight to the Carfax website.
But of the 98 cars on the website, we found 19 that did not have that free Carfax feature. For those cars, you had to ask the dealer to email you a free copy. All but one of those 19 cars had been in accidents, including the Pathfinder we picked out. Two of them had structural damage.
"If that information has somehow been purposely removed, we don't condone any tactic used to mislead consumers," warned Chris Basso, a spokesman for Carfax.
The owner of Used Imports Auto is Jonaid Malik. Years ago he also owned a company called Alpha Cars on the same lot. In 2012, the state of Georgia reached an agreement with Malik after Alpha Cars customers complained they had bought cars with undisclosed accidents.
Without admitting wrongdoing, Malik agreed to pay a $25,000 fine and "cease advertising that motor vehicles they offer for sale have no known accident history when the advertised motor vehicles have a known accident history."
Malik's attorney said the dealership "has not and does not modify Carfax reports and does not encourage employees or anyone else to do so." He could not explain how we wound up with one, or why Arthur Watley says he was shown bad information, too.
Meanwhile, Watley says he can't sell his Lemon BMW... or enjoy it either.
"No, I'm scared to death to take it past 100 miles," he sighed. "Because I don't want to get it stuck out there and I can't get it back. People work too hard for their money. It's too hard for people to come by for people to just rip you off with no remorse."