The Heart of Texas Auto Theft Task Force has observed a significant surge in online fraudulent sales of vehicles this year made via online platforms such as Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist.
Lieutenant Howard Stinehour, commander of the vehicle crime task force, explains that the fraudsters create fake profiles and use false or stolen information to lure potential buyers with a deal on luxury SUVs or trucks that seems “too good to be true.”
Once the fraudsters make the sale, they drop the page, leaving the buyer with a stolen vehicle, no title and out of the cash they paid.
In many cases, the sellers create temporary profiles and use “borrowed” or fake vehicle identification numbers (VIN) that actually belong to other vehicles.
“Some buyers will do a little bit of research, CARFAX, things like that, and they’ll see that it’s for a true vehicle, it matches a 2021 GMC Denali, so they think everything’s fine,” Stinehour said. “But that’s not really the actual VIN number.”
Stinehour notes that the majority of the vehicles sold fraudulently are coming from Houston, but they can end up being sold all over Texas.
In some cases, fraudsters use a stolen identity to sell a car purchased online from a dealership.
According to Automotive News, a poll by eLEND Solutions of more than 700 dealerships revealed that 79% suffered an identity fraud-related loss in 2022.
The poll found that 60% lost at least three vehicles due to identity fraud.
eLEND Solutions CEO Pete MacInnis said that the pandemic has been a driving factor behind fraud in the vehicle industry. “Economic conditions and, especially, increasing digitization of the car buying process are driving more fraud but, unfortunately, this report reveals that most dealerships have not implemented ID verification technologies that can prevent it,” he explained.
Oftentimes, victims only realize they have been scammed when they apply for a new title for the vehicle in their name.
Stinehour added that the trail of victims can become complicated, with the original victim of the vehicle theft, the victim who paid for the vehicle and the victim whose identity was used on the fake title.
To avoid becoming a victim of these scams, potential buyers are advised to ask for as much information as possible ahead of time and verify the VIN provided with the DMV online. Always be cautious of prices that seem too good to be true. The best way to ensure a sale is legitimate is to conduct the exchange at the local tax office.
“If it’s a true deal, they’ll do it the right way,” Stinehour said.