Dealership wards off fraud

Everything checked out, but something about the vehicle being offered to him didn’t sit well with Neil McLeod.

A 2011 GMC Yukon that was the subject of an attempted fraudulent sale is towed from Red Deer Toyota.

A 2011 GMC Yukon that was the subject of an attempted fraudulent sale is towed from Red Deer Toyota.

Everything checked out, but something about the vehicle being offered to him didn’t sit well with Neil McLeod.

Good thing — the 2011 GMC Yukon SLT is now gone and its eager seller is facing a charge of attempted theft.

McLeod, who is sales manager at Red Deer Toyota, said the truck turned out to be the property of a rental company. That fact was concealed as part of a carefully orchestrated fraud scheme, attempted on Monday.

“I’ve been in the business 11 years and nothing appeared out of ordinary,” said McLeod.

“We had to dig, dig, dig to find the owner of this vehicle.”

The man attempting to sell the Yukon to Red Deer Toyota produced a genuine registration and insurance, and a lien search came up clear. When asked about the truck’s history, he claimed he’d bought it a few months earlier from his oil company boss for $51,000, and even arranged for McLeod to speak with that employer.

Anxious to return to his native Quebec, he was willing to let it go for between $40,000 to $45,000, said McLeod.

“He actually broke down in my office crying that his dad was sick.”

Suspicious about a discrepancy between the vehicle’s registration date and when the man claimed he took ownership, McLeod asked how he had paid for the pricey asset. He replied that it came from his savings, which contradicted his alleged boss’s answer that it was financed through payroll deductions.

That prompted McLeod to contact the GM dealer where the Yukon originated. It confirmed that the vehicle was sold to a rental company, which in turn told him that the truck was being rented to a Lethbridge man.

The RCMP were summoned, the man apprehended and the Yukon returned to its owner.

Red Deer Rural RCMP Staff Sgt. Gord Glasgow said the man, who is 27 and from Calgary, is scheduled to appear in Red Deer provincial court on Feb. 15. His name has not been released.

What worries McLeod is how difficult it is to spot this kind of fraud, which can be perpetrated with a forged bill of sale that allows a fraudster to register and license a rental vehicle that hasn’t been reported stolen.

“It took me an hour and a half to find out who owned it,” he said, adding that he has access to resources that private buyers do not.

“These guys could put these units on Kijiji and customers could do a lien search and nothing would flag — and they’d be out 40 grand or 30 grand or whatever.”

Glasgow shares this concern.

“Kijiji is full of deals that are questionable,” he said. “A buyer certainly needs to be very, very aware.”

Neither he nor McLeod had encountered this type of vehicle fraud before, but Staff Sgt. Don Coleman of the Calgary Police Service has.

“There are lots of situations where vehicles are rented, and then put into shipping containers to go overseas and are just gone.”

Coleman added that vehicle-related fraud takes a variety of forms. Stolen vehicles are fitted with VIN plates from units in wrecking yards, or receive a number duplicated from a car or truck in the United States.

“Frauds, when it comes to vehicle sales, are prolific,” he said, adding that the numbers are comparable to those of traditional forms of vehicle theft.

Such activities typically involve organized crime, said Coleman, adding that the penalties for those caught are not as severe as they are for the other activities of such syndicates, like drug trafficking.

“So criminal networks can still make their money with less risk.”

Coleman encourages vehicle buyers to be as diligent as possible when doing their checks; advice echoed by Glasgow.

“When you’re talking about a newer vehicle worth many thousands of dollars, it would probably be fairly prudent to be looking a little further than simply a registration document.”

The two officers also urge caution when the price seems unreasonably low.

“If it sounds too good to be true — the old adage — then it probably is,” said Coleman.

For his part, McLeod is notifying other motor vehicle dealers about the scam. He suggested that a solution might be for rental companies to place liens on all of their cars and trucks.