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Car scam alert: Houston buyers out thousands after getting tricked into buying stolen vehicles

Investigators say this latest crime trend is fueled by a used car shortage, increasing prices and folks desperate for a deal.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — Investigators with the Harris County Sheriff's Office tell KHOU 11 News it's not just stolen cars on the rise, but also a growing number of innocent people buying them. 

The problem being fueled by a nationwide problem: used cars are becoming hard to find and prices are through the roof. So detectives say more people are looking for used cars online and crooks are taking full advantage.

"We're trying to avoid people taken for a ride," said Sgt. Eddie Rivera. 

Beware the super low prices

Sgt. Rivera says thieves are posting stolen cars for sale at super low prices on websites like OfferUp, Facebook and Craigslist.

"Somebody inevitably takes the hook," said Rivera. 

Rivera says one recent victim bought a stolen SUV on OfferUp. 

"That truck there will retail $30,000," said Rivera. "It's a good looking truck. Low mileage. No damage. The innocent purchaser paid $13,000 cash for it."

When buyers go get the car registered in their name, they found out it's stolen. 

"Unfortunately he's going to be out the $13,000," said Rivera. "It goes back to the original owner."

But Rivera says there's things you can do to protect yourself:

  • Check for altered VINS
  • Look for missing Mylar stickers and manufacturer labels on the door
  • Check to make sure there have been no alterations to vehicle
  • If you're going to make a purchase, suggest the meetup spot be a police station

"Do your diligence and do your homework before you spend that money," said Rivera. 

But the simplest advice, trust your gut. 

"If it's too good to be true, it is," said Rivera.

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