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Am I being scammed?
September 11, 2011 12:02 PM   Subscribe

Yesterday I sold a car and today I think the buyer is trying to scam me!

Yesterday I sold my '99 Nissan Altima to a foreign guy who had his kid speak english for him. I sold it for $700. Today the kid calls me and says he can't register the car because there is a lien from Chase Bank on the car. I say I have no idea and I'll call my mom because she bought the car for me years ago when I was 16 and it's in her name.

Now, I know my mom racked up some credit card debt while my parents were getting divorced and she was unemployed but she has been otherwise in good standing and has been paying it all off. She called Chase today and they said they have no reason to place a lien on a $500 car since she's been making monthly payments, and furthermore, they said they didn't see anything on file. They said to call back Monday to speak with someone higher up.

What the fuck is going on? How is this kid trying to register the car on a Sunday, anyway?

[Edit] I have a signed bill of sale and cash in my pocket, can I legally just ignore this guy?
posted by ascetic to Law & Government (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
You could just try to help him out in good faith, first. Can he generate any paperwork to show you what he's talking about?
posted by thejoshu at 12:11 PM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Did you give the buyer the title to the vehicle?

Moreover, do YOU (or your mother) have the title to the vehicle?

Most states won't let you register without a clear title (no lien). They can cross-check this via the VIN number. You can use a service like CarFax to check for current liens on the car if you want to check the buyer's story, but, there's not much incentive for them to come back to you in this manner unless they were told it did have a lien against it.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 12:12 PM on September 11, 2011


Tell the guy/kid that there's no lien on the car, but that you're waiting to hear back on a double-check from your bank. Call the bank on Monday and see if you can get it figured out on your end. If there's actually no lien on the car, just ignore the guy. Leave the ball in his court. If he's trying to scam you, don't make it easy for him to scam you. Make HIM contact you. If he wants to threaten you with small claims court, so be it.

(If there is a lien, then that's probably something you've got to deal with; I don't know the legal/technical whatevers, so I'm not going to tell you what to do there.)
posted by phunniemee at 12:13 PM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Did you give the guy the correct title? If there is a lien, it will say so under "Lienholder." If there was a lien and it was paid off, your state would have mailed you a new copy with no lienholder listed and yourself as the owner of record. If the car was subject to a title loan, someone would have had to carry the title into the pawnshop or bank or whatever to put the car up as collateral, and the title would show the lien under the word "Lienholder."

What did the title say, before you and he signed it and you gave it to him?
posted by toodleydoodley at 12:13 PM on September 11, 2011


@chrisfromthelc: Yes, I gave him the title which was in my mothers name. She signed the title before I gave it to him.
posted by ascetic at 12:16 PM on September 11, 2011


Oh and one more thing - my mom bought the car for me for $500 cash. There's no outstanding payments on it, and if there are, I guess they are from the previous owner? I don't know how this works.
posted by ascetic at 12:17 PM on September 11, 2011


I agree, this sounds fishy, if only because how do you register a car on Sunday? Did he pay you in cash, or with a check or something like that? Maybe he's planning on asking you to refund his money, but then the check ends up not clearing?
posted by MexicanYenta at 12:29 PM on September 11, 2011


He paid with cash...
posted by ascetic at 12:34 PM on September 11, 2011


Sometimes mistakes happen. Operate in good faith for now, and call the bank tomorrow. If things take a hinky turn then yes, definitely protect yourself, don't give this guy his money back, etc etc. But world's a better place in general if we can start off trusting each other in matters such as this.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:38 PM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would ask more questions, because this might just be a huge misunderstanding. The owner doesn't speak English and may be new-ish to this country and our laws, and the translation is being done by a child or teenager who may never have transferred a car title before. As you said, how is it even possible on a weekend? Maybe there was a lien listed on the title, and you forgot to give them the new title (from the former lienholder) with the lien removed?

In Texas, there is something of a problem/scam (not always a scam, but definitely a problem) that has a solution you might use. The problem is that one person would sell a car to another, and that party would not go to the courthouse and finish transferring the title into their name. So if the second party got parking tickets, speeding tickets by cameras, toll road violations, etc., then the original owner was on the hook for them. As a result, we are encouraged to "vehicle transfer notification" when we sell a car. That is the seller's way of ensuring that the paperwork is done, even if the buyer doesn't do it. Maybe NY has something similar? That way, the buyer can do whatever they want, but you are in the clear.

The only other scam I can think of is that people under-report the sale price, to avoid paying taxes.
posted by Houstonian at 12:39 PM on September 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


What the fuck is going on? How is this kid trying to register the car on a Sunday, anyway?

In my predominantly Spanish and Vietnamese-speaking community, there's a whole cottage industry of little storefront businesses that cater to the non-English speaking by acting as a middleman for things such as auto registration in exchange for a fee.

Perhaps the buyer of your car went to one such place to register the Maxima and the business is trying to scam *them.*
posted by jamaro at 12:40 PM on September 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


(That is, we are encouraged to submit a "vehicle transfer notification" to the state when we sell a car.)
posted by Houstonian at 12:41 PM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ask him to provide written proof of the lien. That should have a phone number to call to verify and arrange for resolution.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 12:50 PM on September 11, 2011


Something is wrong with your story above..... you say "they have no reason to place a lien on a $500 car since she's been making monthly payments" which tells me she was making payments, then you say she "paid cash".

Could you clear this up?
posted by tomswift at 12:58 PM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Something is wrong with your story above..... you say "they have no reason to place a lien on a $500 car since she's been making monthly payments" which tells me she was making payments, then you say she "paid cash".

Could you clear this up?


As I understand it, the mother has been making monthly payments on credit card debt - nothing to do with the car, except that the OP was maybe thinking that the credit card company might have some way of putting a lien on a car to recover the credit card debt.
posted by lollusc at 1:11 PM on September 11, 2011


It sounds like you sold the car in good faith, signed over the title, and have the cash in your hand. I agree with others about what you can do regarding checking with the bank on Monday.

In the meantime, it sounds like you can relax, because the ball's in your court ( ie. the cash).

My recommendation is that you ask the buyer for written verification of a lien. But that you DO NOT at any time indicate that you will reverse the sale and refund the money.

You want to be a good person--don't let them leverage that and guilt you into reversing the sale. Get the facts first. You could even offer to meet him at the DMV so that you have a better understanding of the situation (and bring a large friend -even if no one is in the wrong here, these are still strangers who might get angry, either legitimately or as a strategy).
posted by vitabellosi at 1:31 PM on September 11, 2011


Today the kid calls me and says he can't register the car because there is a lien from Chase Bank on the car. I say I have no idea and I'll call my mom because she bought the car for me years ago when I was 16 and it's in her name.

ummm... I don't want to sound confrontational here, but the only scam I see here is someone selling a car for cash not registered to him (it's registered to your mom) that turns out of have a lien on it and isn't registerable i.e. if i had bought this car from you I would assume that *you* are trying to scam me.

I wouldn't have any faith that a customer service droid at Chase can tell if there is a lien on this car. I would tell the buyer in the nicest way possible that you will verify on Monday whether there is a lien and take the car back if it is undamaged and there is a lien.
posted by ennui.bz at 1:32 PM on September 11, 2011 [11 favorites]


It sounds like you sold the car in good faith, signed over the title, and have the cash in your hand. I agree with others about what you can do regarding checking with the bank on Monday.

The car does not belong to the seller here and he has not actually verified whether there is a lien on the vehicle or not... that's not exactly bad faith but I think the seller here has the burden of proof not the buyer.
posted by ennui.bz at 1:34 PM on September 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


I agree with ennui.bz; ascetic appears to have sold a car that doesn't actually belong to him and he has no idea whether or not the car has a clean title. If anybody here is getting scammed it sounds like the buyer.

Under the circumstances I think it behooves you to make every effort to clear this up ASAP on Monday. Perhaps there is a mistake and there is no lien on the title. If there is a lien, you should return the money.
posted by Justinian at 1:38 PM on September 11, 2011


Also, verify with Carfax or the NY Registry of Motor Vehicles, the job of customer service at a credit card company is to not give you information.
posted by ennui.bz at 1:42 PM on September 11, 2011


I agree with ennui.bz, and I'm curious how you came to sell a car for $200 more than it was bought for six years ago, or I guess more like how come it was so cheap then if it's legitimately worth $700 (which sounds fair) now. If your question is "is a lien possible?" and not "can anything happen to me if I just ignore this and keep the money?" I think you need to ask you mom about the history of the car when she bought it, and then if that doesn't clear things up find out what is up with the DMV.

Unless this is just some kind of misunderstanding or language issue it is 100% your responsibility to clear it up ("foreign" people are still allowed to call the cops btw), and if there is a problem I don't think you can fairly keep this guy's money more than a week while you fix it. Even if it's just confusion I think you should be a good person and help get it sorted out as much as you reasonably can.
posted by crabintheocean at 2:15 PM on September 11, 2011


Did you give the guy the correct title? If there is a lien, it will say so under "Lienholder." If there was a lien and it was paid off, your state would have mailed you a new copy with no lienholder listed and yourself as the owner of record. If the car was subject to a title loan, someone would have had to carry the title into the pawnshop or bank or whatever to put the car up as collateral, and the title would show the lien under the word "Lienholder."

I was wondering about this too. Isn't physical possession of a clean title pretty much proof? When I had a loan on my car I don't believe I had any physical title at all in hand. The bank mailed it to me when I was done paying.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:23 PM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Which is not to say you shouldn't check with the DMV. Forgeries and such are possible. But if the title said you or your mom owned the car, odds are pretty good you did.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:25 PM on September 11, 2011


Can you offer to meet him at the DMV when he tries to do the title change? Or have your mom go, if it's in her name? Maybe clearing it up in person will be easiest.
posted by JenMarie at 2:28 PM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is it possible that your dad handled the original purchase and might have more information about what is going on here than your mom? Could it be worth giving him a call too?
posted by crabintheocean at 2:45 PM on September 11, 2011


Isn't physical possession of a clean title pretty much proof?

Nope, I bought a new car outright, and promptly lost the title. This doesn't cause any problems, you can get a duplicate title easily, and I could sell/take out a loan on it later.
posted by trevyn at 4:24 PM on September 11, 2011


I think that the most likely scenario is that there is no longer a lien on the car, but that the copy of the title you handed over showed one.

You made it sound like the title you had was the same title originally given to your mother; if she bought the car on any kind of financing plan instead of with cash, then that title would show a lien.

Like others have noted above, once you clear the lien, you would typically receive a new copy of the title without a lien listed, but it's likely that you guys didn't do all the right paperwork once the loan was paid off.

It seems simple enough to ask the guy to show you the title, or just to look at it, and see if a lienholder is listed; if one is, then you made the mistake here.
posted by teatime at 6:12 PM on September 11, 2011


Okay, first, in some states you can check for vehicle liens online.

Second, your mom called her credit card, it sounds like. But Chase Bank has a million arms, and for all you know, she took out a personal loan from them using the car as collateral, or she had another Chase cc way back when, or Chase was the original lender. At this point, a lien, they might even have a court judgment against your mom, moving it further away from something you'll discover by calling up her credit card. You need to check the car's status via a website like the one I linked above.
posted by salvia at 7:25 PM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


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