How I lost $200 and avoided a car buying scam in Maryland. -tears-

 

So how did this well intentioned, normally well informed, mommy lose $200 last night? Ready for a rather pathetic story? Settle in with that afternoon cup of tea or coffee…. learning about used car scams is supper important if you ever intend to buy a used car. Also a great idea to first learn about your local state used car sales laws. I did that though… or so I thought.

You see for as long as I can remember my spectacularly amazing and wonderful oldest teenage daughter has wanted a Yellow VW bug! (Thank you to the old car in the show Once Upon A Time!) She is 18 now, still no license (long story involving witnessing the bloody aftermath of a teen running a stop sign in front of our home a few years back!) but she feels ready now. However we only have the one fantastic and shiny blue van we call our TARDIS at the moment and if something happens to it…. we don’t have a back up or family here for rides because being a military family means living far from near everyone and moving so often. Not to mention we don’t like being a bother to our friends and family. Our plan was to get a used car at tax time, so here are!

  Finding a used car on facebook might sound like a good idea but….

I found a car on the local military for sale page. Silly me assumed anyone selling on that site had some connection to the military. Of course you can’t screen all people in any given group on facebook but I missed the part that this group wasn’t JUST for the local military post. This perhaps was mistake #1 for me in buying a used car. We met the guy that night off post a few towns away. Funny story, we didn’t see the house address, drove past it just a bit and found a house with one number difference on the address and it had a Yellow VW Bug in the driveway, thought for sure that was it! Husband and our oldest daughter and I get out, ooogle the pretty yellow Volkswagen beetle, she was so thrilled it had stickers on the back of Doctor Who and a few other things she loves. I knock on the door, no answer, I use the door knocker next nice and loud totally setting off my own anxiety, and we hear people inside, but no one answers. Why are they not answering? That car is perfect for her, she is near bouncing up and down and is on cloud 9!

I text the guy, who says she is standing outside…. no guy outside though… he says we are at the wrong house! How many Yellow VW Bugs that old are still out there never mind on the same street? What are the chances? No wonder those poor people didn’t answer their door at 7:30pm! So we find the guy down the street and there is the Yellow Beetle. He said when we passed by the house he had it in the back of the house. The kid looks familiar. The way he looks and talks…. I instantly think of my brother at that age. I miss my brother…. So the car, 2000, 86k miles on it, and supposed to run great and have clean title and such for $2900. This is high end of Kelly Blue Book for that car but these are not easy to find in good running condition. The AD makes it sound like his car… It doesn’t have plates though….  (thus adding to the “scketchy” of this…. In Maryland and many places you cannot have a car in a driveway without license plates and valid insurance coverage.)

 Always be sure you can do a test drive when buying a car right?

I explain we wanted to do a test drive but without plates how is that possible? The young man is eager to inform us there are never cops in his neighborhood and it will not be an issue. I explain no one in my family will drive a car without plates but if he wants to, husband and I can be passengers. (Thus might also have been the wrong thing to do!) So we do that around his neighborhood. I ask questions while trying not to yell because the kid is driving in the middle of the road, because he does fast stops to prove the breaks, he speeds, he backs up in the middle of the road….. yup, just like my brother! I remind myself to take a deep breath and forgive his invincible youth. Come to find out, he is just 17. His facebook profile goes back to 2013, it is legit, I looked into that before replying to his AD at least. He has sold cars before making me think he knows what is doing. I try not to be ageist. So I ask about the car inspection, he says he took it to a buddy at a jiffy lube and it will pass…. ok…. really sounds like my brother with all his shady helpful buddies LOL! He has nothing to show for it though. Just his word. We talk about getting it registered and such and he says he will go with us after we purchase it to a title/tag place in walmart as he has buddies there and he will give us a receipt charging less so we pay less taxes on it. (so shady and I explain we don’t have an issue with paying the price and the taxes for it and don’t want anything shady.) We let him know that we can’t get it registration without insurance (he doesn’t seem to know this…) and would need to do that the next day as it was getting late. He says we can drive it with just a sale receipt and cops will not give us an issue. We explain that isn’t something we would risk and is actually against the law, he says no one gets caught and he does it all the time…. -sigh- I explain we will not risk that.

 A deposit on a used car private sale is reasonable right? Perhaps not…..

He asks for a $200 deposit saying he is getting a lot of calls about it. (though no indication on his posts online that anyone has interest beyond me, most people say they are interested and are sending a message or calling but I believe him as we clearly want such a car!) He says if we back out, we will get half back. I can understand that. We were not going to argue price and he expected us to actually, we don’t love bartering but this is common with cars and this is something I need to work on. (side note, this is going into our homeschooling plans to learn about ourselves and help the kids gain this skill!) At this point I still think this is his car he is getting a new one… He rights up a hand written receipt. He puts his liscense down on it, husband does the same, and sign it. The young man and I both take photos of this. Then he shows us the tittle and things go sideways for me, it is from Virginia (this complicates getting the title here if I have read things right.) The titles back side has the owner selling her car to car max. Then on a stapled page it shows CarMax in Maryland selling the car to a dealer that is licensed out of state. There was room on the back of the title to do that, why the stapled page? I ask him how he is part of the dealership. He says his family runs a wholesale business. I mention it isn’t legal in Maryland for wholesalers to sell to the public as I had at least learned that much in researching how to buy a used car in Maryland. He says this is what they “do” and it legal. His name is no where on the paperwork and I can’t figure out how he is connected to the dealership. He says his brother in law owns that company. Something isn’t sounding right now…. dealerships in Maryland must provide a safety inspection and this doesn’t have one. This kid has an answer for everything and is soooo slick. Yup, just like my brother, so charming and bursting with charisma. I can’t help but like him, but in the back of my mind I know I shouldn’t trust him. I WANT SO BADLY to believe that everything is on the up and up. Husband is supportive as he knows I have been the one looking into a used car and the ways to get one. Having so many kids and his job and so much going on we often split up projects like this. He trusted I had done the research. I was feeling shaking about it though. I keep telling myself this kid and his family sell cars for a living, they know more than I do about this, it has to be fine. I had already given him the money and we agree to meet the next day at 4pm. Our daughter loves the car, is super excited. On the way home I am fighting my instincts telling me this can’t be right…. Husband mentions there is just something “breaking bad” about all this. -sigh-

 When buying a car, listen to the little voice in the back of your head!

When you suffer from anxiety and the million “what if’s” you know you can’t always trust your instincts. I wanted to be wrong, but the nagging voice in the back of my mind kept saying something isn’t right. So middle of the night I end up awake and trying to figure everything out and notice the sale to the WV dealer was 2/5/2018. The kid hadn’t even had the car for a day! So then I stumble across the Curbstoners info and learn more about scams and wow.

Curbstoner Maryland

The DMV for Maryland has a list of things to look out for, one this one, the seller meets all three issues, the title is not in his name, he sells multiple vehicles (though he does delete them after but they are not hard to find with internet archives!) And the car has no tags at all. There is a longer list of things to look out for when it comes to curbstoners you can see on the DMV page too. I am fairly certain this was the case and we would never get a clear title or registration because I am not sure this would pass inspections for the state. I want to be wrong, it isn’t though worth the risk given the willingness of the seller to break laws in just the 2o minutes we talked to him.

I wanted to wake husband and my oldest daughter with my mistake that I was sure I made but they were sleeping and it was 3am. So I text husband a link about Curbstoners and that we can’t get that car. In hopes he sees it in the morning before running to the bank to pull out the rest of the money in cash. I feel terrible. I wake up late in the morning and husband lets me know he did background checks and dug deeper into this whole thing and the company and known associates and…. really not good.

So then I had to decide, do I confront the young seller? Do I try to get the $200 back or even the $100. Looking at who he is connected to…. I don’t want to mess with them honestly. It is a whole world I forget about sometimes that is out there where laws are only broken in their opinion if they get caught. They don’t get caught enough it seems. My brother would always brag about his “deals” and things falling off trucks. I would always have to remind him that it is never as impressive as the seems to think and nothing he should brag about. It is like he lives in a different world than I do. I don’t even break the speed limit. Not to say I don’t make mistakes because I certainly do. I am not better than anyone else. I am not better than this young man, but I seem to live in a different reality. I can only imagine his. I hope I am wrong….

Does he know the law and what he is doing? He certainly isn’t stupid, my brother isn’t either.

 

Know the Law

Anyone in the business of buying or selling vehicles in Maryland must be licensed. A person selling 3 or more vehicles within a 12-month period may be considered an unlicensed dealer. Unlicensed dealers may face up to a $5,000 fine or up to 1 year in jail. Subsequent offenses may bring stiffer penalties.

Dealers who advertise in the newspaper must disclose that they are dealers.

All licensed dealers must:

  • Maintain a physical place of business and do business only at that location.
  • Present the buyer with a Maryland Safety Inspection Certificate.
  • Guarantee that the sales staff is licensed.
  • Make every reasonable effort to guarantee that the vehicles have clear titles (which would indicate the vehicle is not stolen or one with odometer fraud.)

Dealers not licensed in Maryland may not sell vehicles in Maryland. Therefore, you need to be wary of any “bill of sale” or paperwork that indicates any out-of-state information.  — www.mva.maryland.gov/vehicles/registration/buy-vehicle.htm#buying

So I text the young man knowing he is at school still, I feel bad for this as I am sure he doesn’t need distractions while in school. I let him know we have to pass on the car for many reasons and thank him for his time and sorry he took down his AD. I tell him to keep safe and wish him well.

And then I cry. Hard. Not because of the money, not because I am disappointing my daughter (though this specially sucks), but because this kid might as well be my brother and I can’t save him from the path he is on and the people he is involved with. I can’t risk for sure finding out if I am right or wrong. I wish I could save my brother from himself. I see this kid in prison someday and I am sad for him. I am sad that I was falling for charisma knowing full well he was shady. I wanted to believe he wasn’t…. like everyone in my family wants to believe my brother isn’t off breaking laws when he is sober.

So I cry for my brother. I am thankful this lesson only cost $200.

Now to find a second car, from an actual dealer, with safety inspection for cheap. Now to clear my head and stop thinking about things I can not fix and focus on my big to-do list!

I will always love my brother, even if I feel he is too much a danger to be around. Truly wishing the kid we met so briefly well, truly hoping I am wrong about it all.

Have you come across a Curbstoner? What would you have done in this situation?

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