ADOT advises public to stay vigilant when purchasing used vehicles

Title fraud among most common scams involving private sales

Because a title establishes who owns and has liens on a vehicle, altering titles is a common way that criminals defraud those purchasing used vehicles in private sales.

That’s why it’s worth noting that in late May, when a robbery occurred at an Authorized Third Party motor vehicle services business in Phoenix, the suspect made off not with cash but with 1,300 blank vehicle titles. That case remains under investigation, according to a press release.

While the Arizona Department of Transportation has checks in place to protect consumers against stolen titles, investigators with the agency’s Office of Inspector General note that blank titles provide many opportunities for criminals to commit fraud.

First, they can be used to retitle stolen vehicles, salvaged vehicles and vehicles deemed totaled by crashes. They can also be used to skip vehicle inspections when one is required.

“Title fraud is a common way to cheat buyers out of their hard-earned money,” Michael Lockhart, chief of the ADOT Office of Inspector General, said in the release. “However, detectives in our Office of Inspector General have highly trained skills in investigating this type of vehicle fraud.”

The Office of Inspector General maintains a list of serial numbers of stolen titles that is regularly shared with law enforcement agencies, MVD offices, Authorized Third Party businesses and other entities.

Meanwhile, here are some things you can do to avoid falling victim to criminals when buying a used vehicle in a private sale:

•Conduct the transaction at an MVD office or Authorized Third Party business. Employees at MVD offices and Authorized Third Parties can run the vehicle identification number and check the record for liens and other notations that may not be on the title. Don’t hand over that check until you’ve verified you can take complete ownership of the vehicle.

•Use good judgment and ask lots of questions. There are no stupid questions when it comes to protecting yourself in a big purchase. Do this:

  • Ask for identification to make sure the seller is the owner listed on the title.
  • Ask to see vehicle maintenance records.
  • Check the VIN on the inside of the driver’s door frame and on the top of the dashboard to make sure they match.
  • Check for VIN tampering such as the door frame sticker peeled off and replaced, and altered rivets on the dashboard plaque.

It’s most important to take time and not rush the process. If the seller is acting suspicious, unwilling to show ID or records or trying to rush the process, walk away. Take the time to find the right purchase.

•Use an online service to check the VIN. There are several online services that can perform a vehicle record check to look for salvage notices and other notations. These services can cost money, but it is well worth it when the alternative is potentially paying for a vehicle that can’t be registered, driven or sold.

•Seek help if you’ve been scammed. ADOT is here to help victims of fraud involving vehicle titles, registrations and driver licenses. Call its 24-hour fraud hotline at 877-712-2370 or e-mail fraud@azdot.gov.

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