LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Rene Strid recalls her bizarre visit to the DMV as something she never thought possible.
"I was in the twilight zone and it was probably one of the worst car-buying experiences that I've experienced."
Buying a used car can be a daunting experience for a variety of reasons.
Rene's story adds a new one.
She and her daughter, Raven, wanted to buy a car so they could make some extra money.
"So we could do Lyft or Uber or something. And the fact that we have a big family. So it helps."
They found a 2017 Dodge Grand Caravan at Reliable Auto Sales on Sahara and Eastern.
Rene put $3,500 down, financed the rest and started fixing it up.
"I tinted the windows. I had to buy an extra fob and program it because I only got one key to it. I got car mats, a dash cover, I had to get it detailed because it smelled like smoke. There was quite a bit put into it because I thought it was my car."
On Aug. 16, Rene went to the West Flamingo DMV and sat down at window 36 to register her vehicle.
Soon thereafter, she was surrounded by officers and learned the car that she bought was stolen! 13 investigates has confirmed it was reported stolen more than five months earlier.
"This is crazy to me! You go and buy a car and it's stolen?! And, I mean, you look like the thief or the guilty one! It's shocking. I was afraid they were going to take me to jail."
DMV Compliance and Enforcement Administrator Joseph (JD) Decker says his office gets about four stolen cars a week.
When their system flags a car as stolen, he explains, "We get notified immediately because now it's essentially a felony stop for us. We have a stolen vehicle outside and we want to identify the person who brought the vehicle in--they could be a suspect or they could be a victim. There's a 50/50 chance. We don't know and we want to make sure that we capture the vehicle before the person attempts to flee and becomes a danger to the public."
Rene says she was held at the DMV for nearly four hours.
Outside, Raven took pictures so her mom would know what was going on as DMV officials boxed the minivan in, waiting for police to arrive.
Police seized and impounded the van and along with it, Rene and Raven's investment.
"It could've been so much worse!" Rene says. "I could've been pulled over on the street."
A DMV document obtained by 13 Investigates shows the Caravan was reported stolen to the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department on March 9.
So how could it have been sold to Rene and Raven at a Las Vegas car dealership in July?
Rene thought she did everything right.
"When I first went into the dealership, I immediately asked for a Carfax," she said.
Reliable Auto gave her a printout and it came up clean.
"It looks like, in this case, that the dealer purchased the vehicle on the street through Craigslist--or however they acquired the vehicle--at a discounted price," Decker said, adding that dealerships usually buy cars at auction where the title has been verified.
Metro says in this case, Reliable Auto "Did not validate (the) VIN number."
Decker says DMV currently has an active investigation into how the dealer got the car and whether "they made any mistakes that then translated into the consumer being harmed."
If they find negligence, they can take disciplinary action against the dealer.
"For not doing what they should have done," Decker said.
Stolen car scams have taken a new twist lately, which Decker says could explain why they've seen a spike in cases.
"One that we're seeing is people taking advantage of a rental car loophole in that the rental car companies won't report a vehicle stolen until 30 days after the date that the contract expires. So they'll rent a car in L.A., drive it out here, fake the paperwork, sell it off of Craigslist, and if you run a VIN check it will not show up as stolen."
We tried to get Reliable Auto on camera to explain what kind of check they did run before selling Rene a stolen car.
The general manager declined comment due to a pending lawsuit against the person who sold them the car.
But after our phone call, Reliable did refund Rene and Raven's down payment, plus $1500 to pay back expenses they'd put into the van.
As for her credit being affected, they have to rewind the deal to make it appear as though she never bought the car.
That leaves Rene and Raven back at square one, having to start the car-buying process all over again.
The DMV recommends that before you buy a car, especially from a private party, you do a VIN check search with the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Better yet, take it to a DMV VIN inspection station so their officers can check it before you hand over any money to the seller.