March 3, 2014
Jefferson City, Mo. – Attorney General Chris Koster today announced that his office is filing seven civil lawsuits and two criminal cases against Missouri car dealers and financers in Springfield, St. Louis, Lee’s Summit, and Ozark, for failing to provide titles for sold vehicles as required by law. Koster warned Missouri consumers purchasing new or used vehicles to make sure they receive a valid title before taking possession of their purchased vehicle.
"Under Missouri law, consumers purchasing vehicles do not legally own those vehicles until they have the titles signed over to them, in their possession," said Koster. "Even if a consumer pays for the car and drives it away, he or she does not own that car without a title. Missourians should not complete a vehicle purchase unless they will have the title when they drive that vehicle off the lot."
Koster said that Missouri’s licensed car dealers have an obligation under the law to provide car titles for the vehicles they sell when the purchase is made. However, he said that under a complex financing system that many dealers employ, financing companies actually may hold the titles for vehicles on dealer lots. When a dealer sells a vehicle to a customer, often the dealer uses the proceeds from the sale to pay the financing company before it will release the title to the dealer, who in-turn can provide it to the customer. Even under normal circumstances, this can take several days or more, which means consumers do not receive the title at the time of purchase, as required by law.
Investigators from the Attorney General’s Office, following up on consumer complaints, identified a number of cases in which dealers failed to pay financing companies for cars sold to Missouri consumers. As a result, the financing companies refused to relinquish title to the vehicles, and the consumers were left having paid for cars they did not legally own and therefore could not legally register. Many of these vehicles were subsequently impounded or repossessed, leading to significant hardship for the consumer.
Taking action against this practice, Koster today announced the filing of seven civil lawsuits and two criminal cases against the following independent Missouri auto dealers:
In addition, Koster has filed criminal charges against two agents from Auto Credit Mart, LLC of St. Louis, with multiple felony counts of financial exploitation of the elderly, unlawful merchandising practices, stealing by deceit, and, in one case, forgery, resulting from six consumers not receiving titles to cars they purchased. Koster also filed a civil suit against Auto Credit Mart for failing to provide titles to a total of 50 consumers.
In total, these seven dealerships sold more than $500,000 in vehicles without providing titles to more than 100 Missouri consumers.
"The message to the car-dealer community and to Missouri consumers is that a vehicle sale is not complete until a car title is signed over to the purchaser," said Koster. "Dealers have an obligation under Missouri law to provide a car title when they accept payment for and deliver a car. We want financers, dealers, and consumers to all be aware of this and to follow the law."
The criminal charges against the former employees of Auto Credit Mart, LLC are being pursued in cooperation with the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney. As in all criminal cases, the charges are merely accusations and the defendants are innocent until proven guilty.