When you buy a used vehicle and receive the title, are you in the clear? Well, there may be scenarios where you are handed the title for a vehicle, but you still run into major problems. Here’s an example from Hawaii where a buyer purchased a used truck for $10K and ended up with a title problem, even though they were handed the title. How does that happen?

We’ll dive into this case and some other scenarios where you may be handed a vehicle title and it still not be valid. In this case, the buyer realized after the transaction that the name on the title was not the person who sold him the truck, the signature had been forged.

Forged vehicle titles

A forged vehicle title is one that has been improperly signed yet misrepresented as authentic. For example, let’s say the front of the vehicle title lists Joe Smith as the owner. You purchase the vehicle, but on the back, they sign the title with a different name, John Jones. Now, this title is invalid because the owner on the front of the title is the only person authorized to sign the title over to a new owner. It’s not necessarily stolen, but it’s a forged vehicle title. Oftentimes to check for a forged title, buyers will look for theft records, but there may not be a theft record if the title is simply forged. 

Voided duplicate titles

Referencing the Hawaii case from above, in addition to the signature on the title being forged, the title that was produced wasn’t even the original or current copy. A dealership has owned the truck previously and sold it at auction to a third party. However, the title that was produced was a duplicate of the original title and was not the current version according to the DMV. How does this happen?

Let’s say you have a vehicle that is titled in your name and you get a loan for that vehicle. Before you get the loan, you get a duplicate title. The duplicate title is now the valid title with its own unique title number, while the original title is now void. You take the duplicate title to your lender (non-title-holding), get a lien placed on the title, and the lender holds your duplicate title. However, the old title will still look completely valid, even though it is not. Bad actors will often use this to their advantage to defraud buyers by providing a voided title that looks 100% valid. When that vehicle is sold with the voided title and the buyer takes the title to the DMV, they’ll be turned away because the title they have is not the current active title. Titles issued subsequently will void all previous titles.

Protect yourself from forged vehicle titles

It’s nearly impossible to know if a title is current just by looking at it unless you’re already the titleholder with knowledge about the vehicle. One of the best ways to avoid forged titles and title fraud is to do the transaction at the DMV. The DMV can look it up right then and there to tell you if it’s a valid title. Additionally, you can use an escrow service that will hold the money until the title is transferred into your name. There may be other methods to use, but first, check with a qualified attorney.

A vehicle title is a legal government document that is taken very seriously by federal and state agencies. Make sure that the person selling you the vehicle is the person signing the back of the title. You may choose to check their photo ID at the time of the transaction to confirm their identity. Verify that the title number is current and not an old title. Remember that any vehicle title issued subsequently will void all previous titles. 

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