RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A victim in the DMV-related scam where several people have lost their cars due to an abandoned vehicle law, says there's a loophole that has allowed the suspect to commit this crime.
Daniel Frias has lived in the Museum District for nearly four years and never had any issues.
That was until July 15th when he walked outside his home and realized his BMW was gone!
"I called the police later to report it, and they told me I couldn't report it stolen, because I didn't own the car," Frias said. "I said, what, what do you mean? I have the title right here."
Richmond Police Detective Alexandra Davila said a man has been walking down streets in the Fan and Museum district, writing down VIN numbers and taking them to the DMV. There he files an abandoned vehicle report which states the cars were abandoned on his private property.
"I thought that was odd because I've never left it abandoned anywhere," Frias said.
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. The department is urging vehicle owners to be aware of this scam.
Per DMV policy, a letter is sent to the owner or lienholder of that abandoned car to notify them.
Frias said he never got a letter from the DMV.
"When you're giving away a title, you need to consider and notify the lienholder and they didn't do that either," he said. "They didn't notify my lienholder, my bank, my finance company. They just gave this guy the title."
"We both were very surprised at how easy it was," Davila said. "That it was just a letter that needed to be responded to."
Frias said it's the loophole in the law that allowed this to happen.
If the owner of the car doesn't respond to the abandonment letter, the person who made the complaint can begin the process of taking ownership. 21 days later, that person can title the vehicle, sell it, or have it demolished.
"He legally just came and scooped up my car," Frias said.
NBC12 was contacted by another victim who went through this situation, but when they contacted the DMV after receiving the letter they were told, "I had nothing to worry about."
"They gave him a title without any proof of the abandoned car," said the other victim.
"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," said DMV spokeswoman Brandy Brubaker. "Allegations of abuse of this process are investigated and, if appropriate, charges are filed."
Brubaker added the agency is "actively investigating" a case involving the alleged abuse and are working with police on filing charges.
However, Frias wants accountability from the DMV after the inconvenience without his car.
"I'm getting rides, roommates have helped out, Ubers and just trying to figure out this whole car situation," he said.
Frias also can't purchase another car for 30 days, per his insurance.
"I'd be surprised if it was just the one person behind it," he said. "I actually think there's got to be a lot more."
"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 re-keyed 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.
As for if the DMV is investigating internally, Brubaker said, "Any time there is alleged abuse of a DMV process, DMV personnel reviews the system(s) to ensure that we have complied and are complying with Virginia law and IT security requirements."
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 Nextdoor website 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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