Texas law enforcement sees increase in fraudulent vehicle sales

The Heart of Texas Auto Theft Task Force has seen a recent "substantial increase" in the fraudulent sales of vehicles via social media websites like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist.

"As soon as they make the sale, they drop the page," said Lt. Howard Stinehour, commander for the Heart of Texas Auto Theft Task Force. 

It often starts with a "too good to be true" posting: luxury SUVs or trucks, like a Chevrolet Silverado High Country or GMC Denali, that are going for an extremely low price.

The sellers create fake, temporary profiles and utilize fake or "borrowed" information. For example, they may share a vehicle identification number with the interested buyer, but the VIN belongs to another vehicle.

"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," said Lt. Stinehour. "But that's not really the actual VIN number."

The new vehicle "owners" may not find out they have been scammed until they try and obtain a new title for the car in their name, for what turns out to be a stolen vehicle.

"They’re out of the vehicle, and then they're a victim also of the theft of the money that they gave for that vehicle," said Lt. Stinehour.

In some cases, the trail of victims can get complicated.

"You’ve got the original victim of the theft of the vehicle, you’ve got the victim who paid the cash for the vehicle, and then you've got the identity theft from the person whose identity was used on the fake title," said Lt. Stinehour.

Sometimes, the car is even purchased online from a dealership, but the fraudsters use a stolen identity to do so.

In these recent cases, the task force has found that the majority of vehicles being sold fraudulently are coming from Houston, but the vehicles can end up being sold all over Texas. 

To prevent yourself from becoming a victim when buying online, ask the seller for as much information as you can ahead of time. The VIN you are given can be confirmed with the DMV online. Always watch out for 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. The office can vet the title and VIN before any cash is exchanged, and the title can be transferred right away.

"If it’s a true deal, they'll do it the right way."