PHOENIX (KSAZ) - A drug investigation led detectives to another kind of crime, odometers being rolled back on dozens of vehicles being sold to unwitting customers.
A Phoenix woman is now facing charges in connection with the scheme. But the customers weren't the only ones duped; a car dealership also got roped into the scam.
The owners of Robles Auto Sales say this has been a problem for years, criminals tampering with vehicles and forging a signature from their office. Now they hope justice will be served.
"The first time we received a visit, not from a customer, it was not our customer. It was a person who came to ask for his title. We've never seen that vehicle, we've never seen that title, and we've never seen that customer," said Patricia Robles.
Authorities say Iris Marie Villa was forging signatures on paperwork and rolling back the odometers on more than 55 vehicles so she could sell them online at a higher price, and using Robles' business as a front.
"I see all the titles and copies that they sent me, and I see the signatures and of course immediately I recognized that it was not my husbands signature," said Patricia.
Officials say the scheme isn't new, but it's getting more difficult to get away with now that newer cars have digital odometers. Experts say you still have to do your homework.
"The VIN on the dashboard is riveted to the dashboard. Check the rivets for signs of tampering. If it looks like it might have been replaced or switched out or something, that could be a red flag. Just have a reputable mechanic inspect it," Ryan Harding said with ADOT.
Some victims weren't so lucky. Several people bought vehicles from Villa off Craigslist and later realized the VIN, odometer, and title did not match. Something experts say is easy to catch if you do a little digging.
"Do an online check of that VIN through a web-based service like CarFax and just get the whole history of that vehicle," said Harding.
Villa is facing several charges including fraud and theft by misrepresentation.
She will appear in court on July 14.