Whitfield County tax commissioner cautions buyers about online automobile buys

Sep. 19—Whitfield County Tax Commissioner Danny Sane said earlier this year he had to deliver some bad news to a young man he knows who came into his office to get a tag for a used car he had just bought.

"This guy goes up into Tennessee and buys a 2015 Mustang GT, beautiful little car," said Sane. "He sees the title. He verifies the (vehicle identification number) are correct. He drives it. It drives well. So he pays $25,000 cash for the car."

"He brings it here," said Sane. "We pulled it up on our system. About a year-and-a-half ago, we joined NMVTIS (the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System). We find that this car wrecked so bad, it wasn't listed as totaled. It was listed as scrap only. But the state of Kentucky allowed them to get a clear title. The owner brought it into Tennessee and got a tag there."

Sane said Kentucky isn't part of the NMVTIS and Tennessee wasn't part of it in March when this happened.

"Tennessee is on it now," he said.

Sane said he called state of Georgia officials to see if he could help the young man but was told because the car had been listed for scrap Georgia law would not allow a tag to be issued to it.

"He ended up selling it for scrap for $15,000," Sane said. "He lost $10,000."

Sane said the owner could have tried to take it to another state and sell it.

"But he didn't do that," he said. "I was very proud of that."

Sane said that's just one issue that he's seen when people buy cars online. He said he has seen several instances of people being given a copy of a title rather than the title when they buy a car.

Why a copy of a title?

"Well, let's say I go buy a car from an individual and I have the title," said Sane. "I make a copy of the title. Now, I take the car and the original title and pawn it for every dime it's worth. If it's a $10,000 car, and I can get $4,000, that's what I do. Then I sell it to you for $8,700, and give you a copy of the title. and it doesn't even have my name on it. It has the original owner's name on it. So, he got $12,700 out of a $10,000 car."

And the new owner has a car with a lien on it.

Krista Smith, an acting supervisor in the tax commissioner's office, said the copies of titles that have been brought in look just like real titles.

"You can only tell by the feel," she said. "A real title feels like money. These copies feel like regular paper."

"That is a rare case," Sane said. "The more common thing is that people buy a car and they get a copy of a title. Not a title but a copy of a title."

Sane said before buying a used car people should get a Carfax vehicle history report.

"Carfax is hooked into NMVTIS, so it will show if it has been in a wreck," he said.

He said before buying any vehicle from an individual you don't know you should get a copy of their driver's license.

"If there's not a dealership or even a house you can go back to if there are any problems, pull out your phone and snap a photo of the seller's license," he said. "And if they won't let you do that, walk away."

Whitfield County Sheriff's Office Capt. Paul Woods said when making any large purchase buyers should do "due diligence."