Hawaii man scammed out of nearly $10,000 truck purchase

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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) — An important consumer alert for anyone buying a used car from a private seller: A Kaneohe man was recently scammed out of nearly $10,000 after being duped with a fake title.

Now he’s stuck with a truck he can’t legally drive.

When Greyson Lee first bought himself the 2005 Toyota Tacoma, he was thrilled to finally have a reliable commute to work. But since driving the truck home in May, he hasn’t gone much further than his parking spot.

That’s because the registration has expired and the city’s motor vehicle division won’t allow him to transfer the truck to his name so he can make it legal.

Lee says he found the vehicle online and met the man who sold it to him at Temple Valley Mall.

After taking it for a test drive and figuring out the price, he says the seller gave him the title but told him he didn’t have a copy of the registration.

“He said it wouldn’t be too difficult. He has all the paperwork for me to transfer him,” Lee said.

“But it wasn’t as simple as that.”

It wasn’t until the deal was done that he realized the name on the title was not the person who sold him the truck.

“The signature wasn’t exact. It was forged,” Lee said.

Retired HPD Deputy Chief John McCarthy said it was a crime that had several variants. “We will see falsified titles. Titles sometimes non-existent. They will tell you, you have to go here, you have to go there,” he said.

HNN has confirmed that the truck was not stolen. According to the title, it is owned by Servco Pacific Inc.

However, the dealership showed us documentation proving that they auctioned off the truck to a third party and properly notified DMV over two years ago.

The title the seller gave Lee is real, but it’s not the original. It is a duplicate copy.

Servco officials deny asking for a duplicate title, saying DMV issued it after the dealership sold the truck.

Servco also added that the signature at the bottom is forged.

Despite the countless hours Lee and his grandmother have spent trying to work out a solution with officials from the Department of Motor Vehicles, the transfer is not yet complete.

“They (DMV) said we could go to Servco Toyota, get them to give it to me,” Lee said.

Servco said the dealer “cooperated as best as possible.”

But because it has nothing to do with the fraudulent sale, he cannot sign the documents. Meanwhile, the man who sold Lee the truck won’t call him back.

The company released this statement to HNN on the matter:

“Unfortunately, this is a situation with a fraudulent vehicle title in which Servco had no role, but cooperated as best they could. Servco sold the vehicle to a third party and duly informed the DMW of the transfer From that point on, Servco was no longer involved with the vehicle nor had any involvement in the fraudulent duplicate title.

To make matters worse for Lee, HPD declined to investigate the matter, saying there was not enough evidence provided to determine that the vehicle’s title had been tampered with.

HNN’s law enforcement expert strongly disagrees with HPD’s decision.

“You definitely have a criminal case,” McCarthy said. “You have a theft by deception, you have a fake.”

Here’s how he says you can avoid finding yourself in the same situation:

“If you buy a car from me, it should be my name on the title that gives it to you. Ask for ID to match it. Get the registration number of the car the person is driving. Pay by check. Don’t pay cash,” he said.

For now, the truck remains parked, leaving the 20-year-old in a rut.

“Yes, it really sucks,” Lee said. “You know, I have to go to work.”

HNN learned that Lee had another option. He could go to court and ask a judge for a defective title bond.

But to do so would require him to invest thousands of additional dollars and it would take at least three years to officially get the truck in his name.

Here’s how the complicated process works, according to Honolulu Motor Vehicle Licensing Authority officials:

  • The bond is called a defective title bond and the appeal process is through the courts.
  • The party would contact the clerk of the 1st District Court and ask to book a vehicle title appeal. The reason would be that no title was properly released by the registered owner(s) and lien holder, if any.
  • The city cannot transfer ownership of the vehicle and the clerk will help the party and schedule a hearing date. The party would then go to a hearing and explain the situation to a judge.
  • At the end of the hearing, if the judge decides in favor of the party, the city will be ordered to transfer ownership to the party who filed the case.
  • If the party wishes to go through bond proceedings, they must find an insurance company licensed to issue defective title bonds in Hawaii. If they issue a bond, the bond must be issued at the retail value of the vehicle in the blue book and posted within 30 days from the date of the bond, and posted for three years.
  • If nothing happens within three years, the party can collect the bond and return it to the insurance company for a rebate of posted funds.

Servco Pacific also offered these tips when buying a car privately:

  • Do your research on the seller and beware of unlicensed car dealerships disguised as private sellers.
  • Check that the registration and title of the car purchased matches the seller’s name on their ID.
  • Accompany the seller in person to the DMV to ensure that the vehicle title is properly transferred.
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