Buyer beware: Hawaii man scammed out of nearly $10,000 in truck purchase

An important consumer alert for anyone buying a used car from a private seller.
Published: Nov. 3, 2022 at 1:34 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 3, 2022 at 6:49 PM HST
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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 forged 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 excited about finally having a reliable ride to work. But since he drove the truck home back in May, it hasn’t gone much farther than his parking space.

That’s because the registration is expired and the city Motor Vehicles Division won’t allow him to transfer the truck into his name so he can make it street legal.

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

After taking it for a test drive and settling on 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 hard. He’s got all the documents for me to transfer it over,” said Lee.

“But it wasn’t as simple as that.”

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

“The signature was not accurate. It was forged,” Lee said.

Retired HPD Deputy Chief John McCarthy said it’s a crime that has several different variations. “We’ll see forged titles. Sometimes non-existing titles. They’ll tell you, you got to go here, you got to go there,” he said.

HNN confirmed the truck isn’t stolen. According to the title it belongs to Servco Pacific Inc.

However, the dealership showed us documents proving they sold the truck at auction to a third party and properly notified DMV more than two years ago.

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

Officials at Servco deny requesting a duplicate title, saying DMV issued it after the dealership sold the truck.

Servco also added the signature at the bottom is forged.

Despite the countless hours Lee and his grandmother have spent trying to work something out with Motor Vehicles department officials, the transfer has yet to be complete.

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

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

But because it had nothing to do with the fraudulent sale it can’t sign off on the paperwork. Meanwhile, the man who did sell Lee the truck won’t call him back.

The company issued this statement to HNN on the case:

“Unfortunately, this is a situation with a fraudulent vehicle title that Servco had no role in, but cooperated as best as possible. Servco sold the vehicle to a third party and properly notified the DMW of transfer of ownership. From that point, Servco was no longer involved with the vehicle nor had any involvement with the fraudulent duplicate title.”

To make matters worse for Lee, HPD declined to investigate the case, saying not enough evidence was provided to determine the vehicle title was forged.

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 forgery.”

Here’s how he says you can avoid ending up in the same situation:

“If you’re buying a car from me, it should be my name on the title signing it over to you. Ask for an ID to match it up. Get the license number of the car the person is driving. Pay by check. Don’t pay by cash,” he said.

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

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

HNN learned Lee does have one other option. He could go to court and ask a judge for a defective title bond.

But to do that, he would have to put up thousands more 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 officials in Honolulu’s Motor Vehicles Registration Branch:

  • The bond is called a defective title bond and the appeal procedure is in the courts.
  • The party would contact the clerk at 1st District Court and ask to book an appeal for vehicle title. The reason would be no title properly released by the registered owner(s) and lien holder, if any.
  • The city cannot transfer ownership of vehicle and the clerk will assist the party and set up 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 rules in favor of the party, the city will be ordered to transfer ownership to the party who filed the case.
  • If the party wants to go through a bond procedure, they must locate 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 vehicle in the Blue Book and filed within 30 days from the date of the bond, and posted for three years.
  • If nothing happens within three years, the party can pick up the bond and go back to insurance company for rebate of funds posted.

Servco Pacific also offered these tips when purchasing a car from a private party:

  • Do your research on the seller and be wary of unlicensed car dealers disguised as private-party sellers.
  • Verify that the registration and title of the car being purchased matches the sellers name on their ID.
  • Go with the seller in-person to the DMV to ensure that the vehicle title is transferred properly.