Consumer Title Resource | Since 2009!

Beware! Your Car Dealer Might Have Sold You A Stolen Vehicle Title

Discovering that a dealership sold a stolen car without anyone suspecting foul play may sound like an improbable tale. However, it serves as a cautionary example, shedding light on the limitations of certain vehicle identification number (VIN) checkers and search sites. While not all of these platforms are inherently flawed, it’s crucial to be aware of their shortcomings when conducting online VIN checks. Disclaimers often accompany such searches, emphasizing that they don’t guarantee complete accuracy or access to all records. In this intriguing narrative, we’ll explore a real-life incident that highlights why these disclaimers exist.

The story begins with an Oregon woman who became a victim of car theft. Not only did the thief take off with the car, but with the car’s title that was mistakenly left inside the vehicle. Adding insult to injury, the perpetrator forged the title and went on to sell it to a used car dealership in the area. The owner reported the theft to the local police and the Oregon DMV the following day.

Normally, one would assume that reporting a stolen vehicle to the police and the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) would trigger alerts across the board. However, in this case, Oregon DMV is only required to run a VIN check for a stolen vehicle when someone comes in to transfer the car title in Oregon, but this doesn’t apply to transfers in other states. Even though the vehicle was stolen and the VIN was put into the new dealer’s records with the DMV, the DMV was not legally obligated to check if the vehicle was stolen. This loophole prevented the dealership from identifying the car as stolen, resulting in an inadvertent sale.

After the car’s sale, the unsuspecting buyer attempted to register it, only to discover that it had been reported stolen. However, by this point, the car had already been shipped to Hawaii, causing compounding losses for both parties involved. Surprisingly, even the dealership in Hawaii failed to detect the stolen car, as the shipping company failed to raise any red flags. Meanwhile, the original owner, in a desperate attempt to reclaim their stolen vehicle, stumbled upon an astonishing revelation. Their car, listed for sale, appeared on a search for the VIN number—a disconcerting confirmation of the theft.

Lessons Learned

This gripping account imparts valuable lessons to all vehicle owners and prospective buyers. Firstly, it is imperative never to leave your car’s title inside the vehicle itself. Safeguard it by keeping it securely stored at home. Furthermore, when purchasing a vehicle, insist on receiving the title at the time of sale. However, merely relying on online platforms like Carfax, Bumper, or others may not be sufficient. For a comprehensive assessment, it is wise to consult the police department directly. Visit the local police station or jurisdiction where the transaction occurs, armed with your photo identification and the vehicle’s serial number. This personalized inquiry ensures that you receive accurate information regarding the legitimacy of the vehicle.

It’s worth noting that vehicle history checks, particularly those reliant on VINs, have inherent limitations. The police system maintains distinct records from the DMV system, which, in turn, differs from the NMVTIS and Carfax databases. Therefore, to ensure a thorough assessment, all three or four record sources should be examined. Such diligence not only confirms the absence of theft but also uncovers any potential liens on the vehicle. Although police checks can verify the stolen status, they might not detect existing financial encumbrances. To guarantee a secure purchase, it is crucial to scrutinize all available sources of vehicle history.

Ultimately, the easiest way to safeguard yourself when purchasing a vehicle is to obtain the title at the time of sale. We strongly discourage acquiring a vehicle without receiving the title. However, even if you do secure the title, it remains vital to verify its authenticity. As a cautionary example, one of our salespeople recently encountered a customer who faced an unexpected predicament. Although the buyer received a title at the time of sale, it transpired that the seller had requested a duplicate title. Unbeknownst to the buyer, the title handed over was the old one. The complications escalated when the buyer attempted to obtain a new title from the DMV, only to be informed that the provided title was invalid. The seller had used the duplicate title to secure a car title loan, effectively placing a lien on the vehicle. Consequently, the new owner was unable to obtain a legitimate title until the lien was resolved.

The intricacies of vehicle history checks and the vulnerability of stolen cars underscore the importance of diligence and awareness when engaging in automotive transactions. By adhering to essential practices—such as storing titles securely, conducting personalized inquiries with the police department, and consulting multiple record sources—we can fortify ourselves against the risks associated with stolen vehicles and hidden encumbrances. Remember, knowledge is your greatest defense against unscrupulous practices in the automotive world. Stay informed, stay cautious, and protect your investment.

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