Ten people have been arrested for their roles in a scam that used stolen identities to buy vehicles at Southern California dealerships that were then re-sold to victims unaware of unpaid loans left on the cars, the California Attorney General’s Office said Friday.
The scheme targeted two sets of victims — individuals whose identities were stolen to purchase the vehicles and those who later bought them after they had been fraudulently disguised as having “clean titles,” according to prosecutors.
“In many instances, innocent individuals were contacted by banks and finance companies when they failed to make payments on loans that had been fraudulently opened in their name,” the Attorney General’s Office said in a news release.
Victims were left having to navigate “an arduous process to clear their names with banks, finance companies and credit reporting agencies,” the office said.
The defendants include Gaylease Mason, Tamika Whitmore, Kenneth Chelsea, James Curry, Patricia Jenkins (aka Patricia Hickson), Damisi Adimika Hickson, Roneld Williams, James Miles, Stanley Edet and Sabrina Gregorio.
They have been charged with 35 felony counts of grand theft, grand theft of an automobile, receiving stolen property, commercial burglary and identity theft, according to prosecutors.
Throughout 2015 and 2016, the defendants played varying roles in the scheme, using stolen identities to fill out credit applications and buy vehicles at dealerships across Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Diego and San Bernardino counties, prosecutors allege.
The defendants are accused of then fraudulently filing lien releases, on behalf of finance companies, with the Department of Motor Vehicles — falsely stating the vehicles were paid off.
It’s a scam known as “title washing” often used to conceal true lienholders of vehicles, according to Carfax.
With the finance companies cleared as owners, the vehicles were disguised as having so-called clean titles and sold to used car dealerships and on Craigslist, according to prosecutors. The people who then purchased those same vehicles were allegedly unaware of unpaid loans left on them.
The case was investigated by California Highway Patrol.