Car Scam Victims Get Their Car Back

I just had the privilege of helping a family on a case that I almost didn’t accept. This gentleman called me in November, indicating he had purchased a vehicle for $6,000 cash in August, after verifying the title was good at the DMV, only to be contacted by the Anoka police department, who told him the car was “stolen.” Actually, the vehicle had been purchased a day earlier by a scam artist, who used a phony cashier’s check to purchase it, and quickly resold it to my clients. But the police told him that he had to surrender the vehicle, which he did. At that point, he and his wife licked their wounds and were prepared to assume the loss. But they had applied for title, and then they were sued in October for recovery of the title, so they called me wondering what to do. I told him that I felt bad that he was victimized, but there really wasn’t much I could do for an affordable fee that would be fair for them and fair for me.

But it bugged me. This immigrant couple paid for the car, verified title was good, applied for title which they ultimately received, and I really thought the cops were wrong in forcing him to give the car to the original seller. I kept thinking about this phone call the rest of the day, and that evening I posted the fact scenario on Facebook to let my Facebook friends be the jury, so to speak, and it generated a lot of discussion. And most of the comments were that my client should be entitled to the vehicle, as he was a “bona fide purchaser.”

So couple days later, I reviewed my phone records and caller ID, and was able to track them down, and agreed to take the case on a highly discounted flat fee. I went to the law library for some research, prepared a Memorandum of Law, and we went to court. Despite all the suggestions from my Facebook friends, nobody had suggested turning this over for insurance, which is what the seller had done, so he had free counsel, thanks to his insurance claim. But his insurance was reluctant to approve the claim.

Meeting the seller and his attorney at court was a little different than anything I have experienced before, because the two parties had never met each other, and neither of them really had an ax to grind with the other one – usually when parties see each other at the courthouse, you can physically feel the tension. But these two parties were simply victims of a scam artist, and we needed a judge to determine who was on better legal footing to maintain possession of the vehicle. At the hearing, the judge said that he would need to put this on the general trial calendar, meaning we would not get a hearing until next autumn. My concern was that the vehicle was going to depreciate, so I did not want the seller being able to drive it. The other attorney was convinced that if the vehicle was placed in impound with $35 a day charges, the insurance would quickly approve the claim. So we ended up agreeing to that. Ultimately, despite our efforts to expedite things, their insurance took six weeks to finally approve the claim, and they said my clients could have the car as long as they paid for the storage fees, which ended up being over $2,000. Fortunately, my clients will be able to submit their own insurance claim on this, which will not affect their premium since it was not an at fault accident. They have finally gotten this second vehicle, which was desperately needed to replace a prior vehicle, to get these two hard-working parents to their three different jobs, so that they can support their five children.

My job is fun because I get to help people, and I get paid well for it. On this case, I certainly didn’t do it for compensation, but there was a great deal of satisfaction meeting the whole family and knowing I got them on the right track.

P.S. The police finally caught the scam artist, and my client and the seller both identified him at a lineup. The scam artist was not part of the litigation. But apparently the insurance companies will be submitting subrogation/restitution claims.