Watch Out for Vehicle Consignment Fraud

Recently, our office has observed an increasing number of vehicle consignment sale fraud. These practices are usually prevalent in RV sales, but they also exist for cars as well. For the reasons provided below, consumers should be extra cautious when purchasing or selling vehicles on consignment.

How do consignment sales work?

Consignment sales are agreements with a dealer to sell your vehicle on your behalf. They are different from traditional sales because you don’t actually sell the vehicle to the dealer, but the dealer acts like a broker to sell the vehicle for you. When a buyer buys your vehicle, the dealer keeps a portion of the sale for commission and processes the title to be conveyed to the new buyer. This is attractive to the dealer because there is much lower risk for the dealer, and it’s also attractive to the seller because the seller can potentially get a better price for the vehicle. This practice is not illegal, but some dealers have used consignment sales to commit egregious fraud.

How do dealers commit consignment fraud?

Consignment fraud is very simple. The dealer sells the vehicle to the buyer and receives payment from the buyer. Under Oregon law, the dealer must have the physical title, or an equivalent document,  when the vehicle is made available for sale. The dealer must also pay the consignor (the seller) within 10 days of the sale of the vehicle. As you can imagine, dealers often do not receive the title from the consignor (seller) and fail to pay the seller at all. Recently, a Salem RV dealer sold over $500,000 worth of RVs, took the money and disappeared, leaving a mess for the buyers and the sellers. The sellers were never paid for the vehicles and so refused to relinquish the title to the buyers. The buyers, meanwhile, paid money for their vehicles, so they demanded their titles from the sellers.

Who has the right to the title?

Although both the seller and the buyer are victims of the dealer’s fraudulent activities, Oregon law favors the buyers over the sellers in these situations. Oregon Law states that a bona fide purchaser of goods “acquires all title which the transferor had or had power to transfer” at the time of sale.[1] The seller, by “entrusting [the vehicle] to a merchant who deals in goods of that kind gives the merchant power to transfer all rights of the entruster to a buyer in ordinary course of business.”[2] In other words, the buyer in these situations take the title free and clear. The reasoning behind this rule is that even though both parties are victims, the seller is slightly more culpable because the law confers a closer relationship between the seller and the dealer than between the buyer and the dealer.

How are these issues resolved?

For the buyer, the remedy isn’t too difficult. If they are, in fact, bona fide purchasers, they can request that the seller relinquish the title. The seller will likely not be willing to part with the title because they never received the proceeds of the sale, but if the buyer takes the action to court, the court will likely grant the title to the buyer. For the seller, the remedy is with the dealer, but that will be difficult, because the dealer has likely run off with the money or will file bankruptcy. Oregon law requires vehicle dealers to carry a bond for these kinds of situations, but the bond amount is limited to $50,000 per year, which must be split among all of the claimants in that year. In these situations, dealers usually defraud multiple victims at once, leaving the victims to take a small percentage of the $50,000 bond.

How to avoid being defrauded.

The best thing a purchasing consumer can do to prevent being defrauded in this way is to never purchase a vehicle of any kind on consignment. Sometimes the dealer may not disclose that a vehicle it is selling is on consignment, so the consumer should make sure to ask if the vehicle is on consignment. Second, if the consumer is purchasing a vehicle on consignment, demand the physical title be signed and given over before paying the dealer. If the dealer doesn’t have the physical title for a consignment sale, it is time to walk away. Likewise, for the seller, never sell your vehicle on consignment. Selling your vehicle to the dealer, trading it in, or selling it directly to a private party are all much safer options than to trust your vehicle to a consignment dealer.


By Young Walgenkim

[1] ORS 72.4030(1)

[2] ORS 72.4030(3)