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TRAP Case File: Title Washing

Mike was looking in a local auto buyer magazine and saw an ad for a 1995 Lexus for $15,000 with "must sell" noted. Mike called the number and left a message on a pager expressing interest in the car. Eventually a male calling himself Wayne contacted Mike. Wayne told Mike that he was selling the Lexus because he was going through a divorce. They agreed to meet the next day so Mike could see the car.

The next day Mike and Wayne met and Mike inspected the Lexus. After a test drive, Wayne agreed to accept $13,000 for the Lexus from Mike. Mike observed that the vehicle’s title did not indicate it was a "salvage" or "junk."

Three months later Mike took the Lexus to his local repair shop for servicing. The mechanic told Mike that his car appeared to have been in a major traffic accident and repaired with parts from Lexus’s of different years. It also appeared the repair was not completed by a legitimate service center.

Mike contacted the local police and learned that his Lexus had been registered out of state and had been in a wreck. The car was paid off by the insurance company and declared junk. Additionally, Mike learned his Lexus was brought to California and repaired using the cheapest parts and workmanship. The crook registered the Lexus and the disclaimer "Salvage" was intentionally removed (washed) from the title. By removing the "salvage" notation, the true value of the Lexus was erroneously hidden from Mike.

Buyers must be aware that when the price of a vehicle for sale is too good to be true, then something may be wrong. Referring to the TRAP handout, buyers can learn and be guided when purchasing used vehicles.

TRAP has been highly successful in combating vehicle theft and vehicle fraud by focusing on organized rings and illegal business operations. For information regarding the Taskforce web page, call (213) 847-3785.