When you buy a car from a dealership, you don’t expect to end up with a “hot” car that was reported stolen. But — some dealers have been selling stolen cars to unsuspecting consumers. Worse, when the cars were seized by police, the dealers refused to give the consumers a refund.
A Florida woman bought a car from a large franchised auto dealer. Imagine her shock when police showed up at her home and seized the vehicle. They told her it was stolen property. She showed them the contract and other documents. She had even registered it in her name and paid for major, expensive repairs.
However, that didn’t matter — she still lost her car. When she contacted the dealer who sold her the car, he refused to accept any responsibility.
Eventually, she got an attorney and sued, but years later she was still trying to get a refund, while the dealer kept stonewalling.
Recently, a news team in Sacramento contacted CARS about a similar case. The insurance company had paid off the claim on the stolen car, and took possession when it was recovered — from a hapless car buyer, who had a receipt to prove she had bought it from a local dealer. Suddenly she was without her car, and she lost all the payments she had made.
You may think that when you buy a car from a licensed dealership that you’re protected. Unfortunately, when stolen property is involved, often the dealers and insurers come out ahead, leaving innocent consumers in the lurch.
A Texas man was arrested by Mexican authorities after the vehicle he bought from a dealership in Texas was identified as stolen, after he drove it into Mexico and attempted to return home. He was eventually cleared of auto theft charges. But the dealership balked at paying him back for the stolen car.
Some consumers are victims of a sophisticated scam known as “VIN-switching” or “vehicle identity theft.” Thieves switch the VIN plates or alter them. According to the FBI, VIN switching is a serious — and all-too common — crime.
Bottom line for car buyers: Always insist on seeing the title to the car before you buy. Make sure the name on the title matches the seller’s name. Make sure the VIN on the car is the same as on the title. Double-check with the motor vehicle department in your state to confirm that the owner has proper title to a car with that VIN.
Read more: FBI — suspect sentenced for VIN switching