Learn what title fraud is, how to protect yourself from it, and what to do if you suspect you may be a victim.
About 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. Title fraud can hide potential safety issues such as damaged brakes, electronic components, and airbags. It can also lower the value of your vehicle.
Some of the most common types of title fraud are:
Odometer rollback occurs when someone reduces the number of miles recorded on a vehicle title or the odometer.
Vehicle Identification Number cloning
Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) cloning occurs when the VIN on a vehicle title is illegally replaced with the VIN from another vehicle. This is typically done when someone registers a stolen vehicle.
Title washing occurs when a title brand (see below) is removed as paper documents are transferred between states, or when documents are altered or counterfeited.
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.
Check if the vehicle you want has title brands
- Check the history of a specific vehicle online at several vehicle data company websites
- Send us a completed Vehicle/Boat 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. We can:
- 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 VIN
How long it takes
The vehicle check happens behind the scenes as your title is being processed. You receive the results during your title transaction.
Affected vehicle transactions
We complete the vehicle check on title transactions for powered vehicles that include trucks, passenger cars, and motorcycles. However, information gathered during fraud detection checks on vehicles you already own will appear on future registration renewals.
If the make or model on a title is incorrect
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 we changed and why.
Vehicles that have 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 state patrol doesn't inspect the vehicle within 30 days we will cancel the vehicle registration, and we won't issue a title.
- We will flag the vehicle record to prevent a 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 to do if you suspect title fraud
If you suspect title fraud or find your vehicle has a title brand that affects its 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.