Manatee County Tax Collector Ken Burton, Jr. recommends citizens exercise caution when purchasing vehicles from private individuals. Tax Collector employees discovered that a 2010 Toyota a customer had just purchased and was attempting to title was actually a stolen car from New York.
“It’s one of those things that many people don’t think about,” Burton said. “They reply to an ad or see a car for sale in a parking lot and then call to meet the owner. They exchange cash for the vehicle, often thousands of dollars, and then come to my office attempting to title the vehicle only to find out that the car is stolen.”
An alert employee, along with information from CARFAX.com, verified a problem with the vehicle’s title paperwork. Law enforcement then confirmed that the car, known in the auto theft industry as a “clone,” was a stolen car whose VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) and title paperwork were altered to mask the true identity of the car. The stolen car is generally returned to the owner who reported it stolen or to the insurance company which paid out a theft claim on the vehicle. In this case, the customer is out of the money they paid for the car and without the car as it was seized by the Bradenton Police Department.
Although these types of incidents are rare compared to the thousands of transactions processed each year, the Manatee County Tax Collector’s Office is a leader in the state in discovering stolen ‘cloned’ cars. In the past few years, employees of the office have uncovered a stolen Cadillac Escalade, a Mercedes SUV and various other vehicles.
Burton recommended the following suggestions to reduce the risk of a car buyer becoming a victim:
1. Purchase a car from a licensed Florida auto dealer – This provides for greater consumer protection.
2. Obtain a Carfax or similar registration/title history on the car and carefully review it, checking for discrepancies.
3. If it is a private/casual sale, meet the seller at a Tax Collector’s Office to ensure that there are no problems with the title transfer. Appointments for title transfers are available at all four of our offices, so if a seller is not willing to come in, be skeptical. The number to call to schedule an appointment is 941.741.4800.
4. Be especially cautious with vehicles sold on the internet; there have been problems with cars purchased from the internet being stolen and/or the new owner could not obtain the proper paperwork to title the vehicle in Florida.
5. If a buyer must make a purchase and cannot visit an office, the buyer should consider obtaining a bill of sale and look at the seller’s Driver License/ID Card so that law enforcement can pursue if the vehicle ends up being stolen or if additional paperwork is needed from the seller.
6. Finally, if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
The Manatee County Tax Collector’s Office was a 2011 recipient of the Florida Governor’s Sterling Award for Organizational and Performance Excellence.