Your car title is a legal document that describes a vehicle by make, model, year, and VIN. It provides information on the vehicle’s owner and anyone who may have a lien on the title.
The document is created by the state, but there are ways that it can be altered. Any time that a title is changed so that the true facts regarding the car are misrepresented, car title fraud has occurred.
Types of Title Fraud
Car title scams occur in a few general ways.
Creating a Fake Title
Although titles are government-created documents, they, just like money, can be duplicated. The practice of chopping up cars and creating fake titles still happens from time to time.
Changing Title Information
Salvage title cars are cars that have been damaged in a way that makes the car unsafe to be driven. The salvage notation significantly decreases the value of the car. When someone takes a salvaged car from one state to another, they can sometimes “wash” the vehicle of a salvaged title.
Odometer Rollbacks and Title Fraud
Instead, the title may list the odometer from the last purchase, and the seller rolls back the odometer to the last purchase, rather than showing the true miles on the vehicle.
Title Kiting and Title Fraud
When someone buys a used car, they will often buy it subject to the lien that is on the vehicle.
The buyer may promise to pay that lien, or, in the case of title kiting, they can pass that lien on to someone else. When that happens, someone who thinks they own a car outright may actually have to deal with a lienholder that they did not know existed.
Liens are supposed to be listed on the title. Reviewing a title carefully for lienholders can help prevent this type of fraud.
Signs of Title Scams or Vehicle Title Fraud
Although you cannot prevent all title fraud, you can look for a few warning signs that may indicate that title fraud has occurred.
The title looks counterfeit
If the title fraud is part of a larger operation, there may be signs that the title document itself appears fraudulent.
Things like peeling at the edges of the paper or not having a watermark are signs that your title may not be the real deal.
Look for fuzzy printing and smudging, too. Many states are using watermarks and micro-printing to help address problems with counterfeit titles.
The title is from another state
Although having a title from another state does not automatically mean that title fraud is occurring, it significantly increases the likelihood that it is happening.
This is especially true if you are not in an area that is near a state border, so the car would have traveled a great deal to get to you.
Another similar sign is that the vehicle was purchased in your state, but it was recently issued a new title shortly before the sale. This “new” title may not be the real title.
The seller does not want to let you see the title before purchase
It is a good idea to review the title before you purchase a car.
However, if the seller is unwilling or unable to show you the title right away, that could be a sign of fraud. They may want to get your purchase money before showing you the title, just in case you catch the title fraud.
Check for parts that do not seem like they fit with the vehicle
In some situations, a car will have rusted parts or individual parts that seem like they do not belong with the car.
If that is the case, that can be a sign that the car was rebuilt and the title issued is a fake. Take an in-depth look at the body, the underbody, and under the hood. If you are not sure what you are looking for, ask someone you trust for help.
The seller does not give you time to review the VIN
You can check a VIN by going to vehiclehistory.gov.
While not every vehicle will be listed, most insurance companies and salvage yards are required to report when a vehicle has been designated as a “salvage.”
If the seller does not want to give you the VIN or will not allow you enough time to do this type of research, then chances are that you avoided a title scam by missing out on the purchase.
Contact Experienced Lemon Law Attorneys
In many situations, simply trusting your gut feelings about a car can go a long way. Title fraud is difficult to spot and combat once it occurs. Taking some additional time to research the car and the seller can help you avoid title fraud.
Robison Lemon Law Group can help you deal with title fraud once it has occurred.
Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.