RICHMOND, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- State officials say they have seen an increase in the number of people buying boats and personal watercraft that have been misrepresented.
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries says many of these vehicles turn out to be stolen and cannot be registered, which leaves the buyer facing a major financial loss.
The agency says all motorboats and PWCs need to be registered and titled before they can be operated on Virginia's public waters, and it is during the process to do so that a buyer frequently learns there are issues with the vessel.
DGIF's Conservation Police Boat Fraud and Theft Unit has been investigating such incidents.
Officials have some tips to help people who are thinking of buying a boat or PWC that is used.
First, the hull identification number should be checked to make sure it is there and does not look like it's been altered in any way. That number is assigned by the manufacturer, much like a vehicle identification number in a car.
However, DGIF says some older boats, those made before 1972, might not have a HIN, and vessels that lack the number cannot be registered or titled.
If a vessel has a HIN, it should be located on the rear, generally on the upper right-hand corner on the outside.
Potential buyers should also always physically look at the boat before buying as there are many online scams where a person never receives the boat after paying for it.
Once purchased, the new owner needs to receive a Bill of Sale and the Title, and such paperwork should be checked to make sure the information and numbers are correct.
Finally, officials say people should take their time before buying a boat of PWC. If at any time you are not comfortable with the sale or the tactics of the person trying to sell the vessel, do not buy it.
Anyone who believes they have fallen victim of either a stolen watercraft or of a fraudulent sale should report it immediately.
Such reports can be made to conservation police officers in person, by calling (800) 237-5712, by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by clicking on the link in the Related Links box.