Title fraud: Vehicles & boats

Title fraud

Title fraud occurs when the title (the Certificate of Ownership that shows who owns the vehicle) doesn’t accurately report important information about the history of a vehicle or boat. Some of the most common types of title fraud are:

  • Odometer rollback, when the number of miles recorded on the vehicle’s odometer or title is reduced.
  • VIN cloning, when the vehicle identification number (VIN) on the title is illegally replaced with the VIN number from another vehicle. This is typically done to allow the registration of stolen vehicles.
  • Title washing, when a title brand is removed as paper documents are transferred between states, or when documents are altered or counterfeited.

Title fraud can hide potential safety issues such as damaged brakes, electronic components, and airbags; and can lower the value of your vehicle.

Title brands

A title brand is an official record of damage or other information about a vehicle that could affect its value or the ability to operate it safely. For example, a “rebuilt” title brand means the vehicle has suffered enough damage to be declared a total loss by an insurance company and then was rebuilt. A title brand remains on record for the life of the vehicle.

How can I find out if the vehicle I want to buy has title brands?

  • Check the history of a specific vehicle online at several vehicle data company websites.
  • Send us a completed Vehicle Record Request.

Title Fraud Detection System

The Title Fraud Detection System helps protect you from title fraud by allowing us to quickly check a national database of vehicle information and:

  • Look for title or odometer discrepancies.
  • Find title brands or notes about unusual conditions, such as an uncorrected safety recall.
  • Find out if the vehicle has been stolen.
  • Ensure that the make and model year of the vehicle match the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).

How long does it take?

The vehicle check happens behind the scenes as your title is being processed. You receive the results during your title transaction.

What kinds of vehicle transactions are affected?

Only title transactions for powered vehicles (trucks, passenger cars, motorcycles) are affected. However, information gathered during fraud detection checks on vehicles you already own will appear on future registration renewals.

What happens if my vehicle’s model year or make are wrong on the title?

If we find that the title has the wrong model year or make, we’ll correct it and give you a written explanation of what was changed and why.

What happens if my vehicle has been reported stolen?

If the computer check shows your vehicle was reported stolen:

  • We’ll tell the vehicle owner listed on the title to take the vehicle to be inspected by the Washington State Patrol, and notify the state patrol to follow up.
  • If the vehicle isn’t inspected within 30 days, the vehicle registration will be canceled and the title won’t be issued. The vehicle’s record will also be flagged to prevent future registration until the status of the vehicle is resolved.
  • If the vehicle was stolen and recovered, the law enforcement agency that recovered the vehicle will give you a recovery report and the stolen vehicle database will be updated. You must present the recovery report to us when you process your vehicle’s title.

What you can do if you suspect title fraud or find title brands on a vehicle

If you suspect title fraud or find your vehicle has a title brand that affects it’s value or safety, it’s up to you whether you keep the vehicle or not. If you try to return the vehicle to the seller, but they won’t take it back, you may consider taking legal action. If the seller is a licensed dealer in Washington State, you can file a complaint with us.

Who to contact if you have questions

Phone: 360.902.3770
TTY: 360.664.8885
Email: titles@dol.wa.gov

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