WAFF Investigates: Curbstoning - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

WAFF Investigates: Curbstoning

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Is the car you're after being sold by a curbstoner? Is the car you're after being sold by a curbstoner?

A viewer contacted us about a chance encounter with a "curbstoner." It's a term you may not be familiar with until you become a victim.

It happens when someone purchases a vehicle they think is sold by a private seller, but it's really an unlicensed dealer trying to flip used cars. Not only is that illegal, it's a deceptive practice that puts us all at risk and it's even harder to track.

Piper Phillips had that chance encounter after coming across an ad for a car on Craigslist.

"One of them caught my eye, it was a Jaguar and it was very nice and the guy had said it was a 9 out of 10 on the interior and a 10 out of 10 on the exterior," said Phillips.

She set up a meeting and went to see the car and noticed red flags right away. There were problems with the battery, an interior that wasn't exactly how he described, the AC didn't work, and she heard problems with the transmission.

"He said 'Oh no, no, everything is fine, so me and my husband just looked at each other and said let's just get this test drive over with," added Phillips.

Something else also raised suspicion.

"I asked him if he was a dealer because he had so many cars for sale and he said no," said Phillips.

WAFF simply Googled the so-called "private seller's" phone number and it turns out, he did have other cars for sale.

In the state of Alabama, once you've sold or even advertised five cars within the same year, you have to have a dealer's license. Plus, once you sell a vehicle, the state and county will collect sales tax. Curbstoners illegally avoid paying for the license and taxes by operating in this manner.

Richard Noel has kept his used car dealership in Meridianville in business for 22 years. He also keeps it accredited by the Better Business Bureau. He believes curbstoners will buy a car, skip the title process, then turn around and sell it.

"One reason they do that is it's quicker because the state is so slow in processing titles. If they were to put it in their name, it's liable to take on average six weeks to get that title document back, which ties up their cash flow," said Noel.

Legally, a dealer is required to notify a potential buyer of any major problems with a car, whereas a private seller isn't.

"There is supposed to be some magical fine system for breaking that law, and I've never heard of anybody enforcing it and it's really tough to catch," added Noel.

We checked with The Business and License Tax Division. They only investigate curbstoning once they receive a complaint on a dealer. We were told no investigations on curbstoning have been conducted this year or last year, and they don't provide records on completed investigations.

"There's a lot of red flags, a lot of discontent in the used car business that give a lot of us reputable people a bad name," said Noel.

However, curbstoners don't need a curb anymore. All they need is the internet or a park-and-sell lot.

"It does cause questions when you see someone who qualifies as a dealer, pretending to be a car owner and there could be a number of reasons why. They may be out to get someone's money for a car that they don't have a title cleared for, or there could be issues with the car," said Michele Mason with the BBB.

You can avoid curbstoners and similar pitfalls by knowing who you're dealing with. Get a third party to inspect the vehicle.

Get a copy of the title, make sure it's up to date with no lien holder, and make sure you can go back to the seller if you need a legal correction done on the title.

Lastly, use a site like Carfax to check the vehicle's history.

Whether it's an ad on Craigslist, a park-and-sell lot, or on a curb, the BBB warns you to do your homework before buying.

For more information and tips, visit the Stop Curbstoning website.

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