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Craigslist car scam leaves Corpus Christi family out of $20K; investigation showed car was also stolen

The Craigslist ad offered a 2017 Toyota 4Runner -- the family had intended it to be a gift for their daughter.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A Corpus Christi family looking to surprise their 16-year-old daughter with her first vehicle ended up getting a surprise of their own when they fell victim to a Craigslist ad for an SUV.

The family was ripped off even though they thought everything seemed to check out. The family is now out $20,000 and is hoping to warn others so it doesn't happen to anyone else. 

Corpus Christi residents 'Mandy' and her daughter 'Ally' asked that 3NEWS not use their real names, to better hide their identities.

They pride themselves on doing their homework before buying anything online, which is why they are still in shock that they could even be fooled by the ad. 

"From the start it was a very legit deal, very communicative, said he was going through a divorce, had to sell his belongings," 'Mandy' said. 

The Craigslist ad offered a 2017 Toyota 4Runner -- the vehicle that 'Mandy' intended to be 'Ally's' new car. 

"For them to actually get me a car, really nice, leather, black rims, it was all decked out, beautify, so happy," Ally said.

Mandy and her husband made the long drive to Houston in order to buy the vehicle, meeting in person to do the exchange. 

The duo handed over the $20,000 in cash. 

"Everything was adding up to be a legit deal, we gave him the money and he asked for a ride back to his work," Mandy said.

It wasn't until the family went to exchange the title in Corpus Christi that they found out the truth -- the title was fake, but so was the SUV's VIN number.

"As soon as he showed up there, the clerk went to the back, and came out with two officers," Mandy said. 

In addition to the title, and VIN, the license plate was also fake and the car was listed as stolen. 

The family had to give up the vehicle to authorities.

"If it sounds too good to be true it probably is," said CCPD Lt. Michael Pena.

Pena told 3NEWS the group of thieves are believed to have done the same thing to many others in the Houston area.

"The license plate that was on there is a fake," Pena said.

Pena said that looking at tell signs can help prevent situations like these from happening. 

"If they are asking for cash indication that its too good to be true, well below what that vehicle is actually worth. Probably a good indication something is not right," Pena said.

'Mandy' said that the experience has already left its mark on her family. 

"This really robbed her of that experience, my husband and I are working hard to make up," 'Mandy' said.

Some other tips from CCPD:

  • Ask the seller to do the exchange at the DMV.  If they are hesitant, they could be an good indicator something is not up to par.
  • Look in the door jam of the car for a sticker, it should have the VIN number but also an imprint of the car maker on it.
  • Invest in an onboard diagnostics device you can plug into the vehicle. It will also tell you the actual VIN and the device is relatively inexpensive.

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