RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Richmond Police are investigating after several people have come forward stating their vehicles were fraudulently re-titled to someone else without their permission.
A Lieutenant with the department posted to Nextdoor application, a neighborhood safety app, about a DMV scam involving a man and several victims.
"A subject has taken several vehicle identification numbers (VIN) to the DMV and reported them as abandoned vehicles on his property," the post states.
Richmond Police Detective Alexandra Davila said they've received four reports from victims in The Fan and Museum District area. They also know of two cases reported in a nearby jurisdiction. All are connected to the same suspect.
"He would walk down the roads and copy down the VIN numbers from vehicles," Davila said. "He would then go to the DMV and say that the vehicles were actually abandoned on his private property."
NBC12 was contacted by one victim who went through this situation.
In late May the victim received a letter from the DMV stating their Mini Cooper had been claimed as abandoned on a street in the Jackson Ward neighborhood.
"I immediately called the DMV upon receiving this letter and let them know that my car was not abandoned, nor was it ever parked near this property," said the victim, who wishes to remain anonymous.
On July 17th the victim walked outside, and the car was not there.
"I called Richmond Police and after giving them the VIN number, they told me that the vehicles had been titled to [a man] this weekend," the victim said. "The officer I spoke to said I could not file a stolen vehicle report because the vehicle was now in his name."
"He did target certain vehicles such as BMW's, Kia's and Mini Cooper's," Davila said. "Those are actually dealerships that allow someone to get keys rekeyed without the vehicle having to be actually present."
Police are still trying to figure out how the man got a hold of the cars, whether by a tow company or new keys.
I feel completely violated and unsafe that the DMV essentially handed over my title and vehicle to someone else with no investigation," the victim said. "I called the DMV about the letter and was told I had nothing to worry about."
DMV spokeswoman Brandy Brubaker said, "We are actively investigating a case involving alleged abuse of the abandoned vehicle process and are pursuing criminal charges."
According to the DMV website, an abandoned motor vehicle is defined as a vehicle left unattended on public property for more than 48 hours, in violation of a state law or local ordinance; a vehicle that remains more than 48 hours on private property without consent of the property owner.
The process described on the website includes the DMV sending a certified letter to the owners/lienholders requesting the removal of the vehicle within 15 days (120 days for a manufactured home).
"If the owners/lienholders of the abandoned vehicle do not respond to the request to remove the vehicle in the time allowed, you return to DMV's website to post your intent to auction the vehicle," the process states. "The intent to auction posting remains active for 21 days. After the posting period ends, you are eligible to title the vehicle, sell it, or transfer it to a demolisher or scrap metal processor."
"We both were very surprised at how easy it was," Davila said. "That it was just a letter that needed to be responded to."
Several of the victims have questioned why proof of the abandoned car was not provided to the DMV during the claim.
Brubaker responded as follows:
"As set forth in Virginia Code, the person making the application certifies under the penalty of law that the information they provided is accurate and truthful. Allegations of abuse of this process are investigated and, if appropriate, charges are filed."
Davila said they're working with the DMV on getting charges filed against the suspect.
There's also a way to search for an abandoned vehicle in DMV records, in case you're worried this may have happened to you.
Richmond Police posted to the neighborhood app urging car owners to be aware of the situation going on.
"If you get a letter from DMV stating your vehicle has been reported as abandoned, contact DMV & RPD immediately," the post said.
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