Seller Beware — Scam Targets Cars for Sale

For Immediate Release
August 24th, 2001

Contact: Lt. Kenn Rosenberg (714) 634-1385

Seller Beware — Scam Targets Cars for Sale

SANTA ANA — A current investigation by the Orange County District Attorney’s Auto Theft Task Force (OCATT) has revealed the resurgence of a popular technique used by professional auto thieves.

Cars have been stolen from several Orange and Los Angeles county residents who have listed their vehicles for sale in weekly publications of the Auto Trader and Auto Recycler. The victims were called by potential “buyers” who saw the ads in the publications.   The buyers/suspects then met the victims at their residences to inspect the cars.  Negotiations began and in some cases, the suspects test-drove the vehicles.  Arrangements were made to meet again to have a relative check out the vehicle or finalize the sale.  However, within a day or a few hours, the vehicle would disappear from the front of the seller’s residence.

OCATT has made one arrest in its on-going investigation:

Manuel Felix Villegas (DOB 1-31-69) of Los Angeles was arrested on Aug. 13 when he was caught driving a car in Los Angeles that had been stolen in that county. Further investigation revealed that Villegas had stolen three cars from Orange County and four cars from other counties. He was charged with auto theft, possession of stolen property and possessing a counterfeit drivers license. Investigation is on going and additional charges are expected to be filed. Villegas is in custody in lieu of $50,000.

The Orange County Auto Theft Task Force recommends the following guidelines to prevent this from happening to you:

  • If possible, garage your vehicle following a viewing by a potential buyer.  If garaging is not possible, relocate the vehicle away from your residence after showing.
  • Meet potential buyers away from your residence and do not disclose your residence or where the vehicle is usually parked to a potential buyer.  Also, remove from the vehicle any information that may provide this information to a buyer.
  • Have someone with you when you go to show your vehicle and accompany the buyer on any test drives.
  • Record the license number(s) of the vehicle(s) driven by the potential buyer(s), as well as their names and physical description.  Be particularly suspicious of a buyer who seemingly arrives on foot.
  • Do not give keys to buyers to take on a test drive by themselves.  They may stop to make an imprint or copy of the key.

For further information, please contact Lt. Kenn Rosenberg, Sgt. Doug Thomas or Investigator Pete Tuttle at the OCATT, (714) 634-1385.

(The Orange County Auto Theft Task Force is a multi-jurisdictional countywide law enforcement group formed to reduce vehicle theft and increase the apprehension of thieves. The Orange County District Attorney’s Office oversees Task Force activities.)