Fraud Not Theft

No information contained within this site or supplied by Claims Management & Adjusting Ltd constitutes legal advice.

Consider the following:

  1. A motor dealer (vehicle vendor) is approached by a plausible criminal – such is the nature of those practising fraud/deception
  2. A price is agreed for a vehicle and the criminal pays by credit card (CC)
  3. Unknown to all but the criminal, the card is being used fraudulently – it may belong to another, a clone …
  4. The dealer is satisfied with the method d of payment (CC) is valid, good and upon payment, which raises no alarm, the dealer hands over the car, keys, documents etc.
  5. A FRAUD is committed

It is here the differentiation between FRAUD and THEFT is telling.  With THEFT there is no ‘giving’ and the crime is identified by the victim promptly – their car has been stolen, it has been taken without their consent.  It is reported to the police immediately. With FRUAD the victim, unaware they are being tricked, willingly parts with the vehicle believing a valid transaction occurred.

To return to the above continuity:

6. The criminal knows it is only a matter of time before their fraudulent conduct will come to light.  They advertise the vehicle for sale and may even have done so whilst negotiating the purchase.  The criminal does not want possession of the vehicle but to convert this ill-gotten gain to cash.

Often a STOLEN vehicle has its identity changed to dupe a potential purchaser, with FRAUD the criminal has no concern about the vehicle identity and can concentrate in disguising theirs alone – they have a ‘window of opportunity‘ in which to sell the vehicle … it must be disposed of before the deception is discovered and the vehicle is sought.

7. An innocent purchaser (IP), possibly living many miles from the dealership, in another county, considers the purchase.  The vendor has the documents (albeit not in their name – they may well claim to be a trader), the keys, service history.

8. The criminal vendor may well agree to meet the buyer half-way between them – this suits the crook, it adds to the confusion and takes advantage of the police cross-border difficulties (who does, or can be bothered to do, what?):

  • A constabulary has the original taking FRAUD recorded
  • The transaction will occur in another jurisdiction
  • The buyer from a Third constabulary

9. A due diligence check of the vehicle by the IP using a publicly available service reveals no adverse history; the vehicle is not on finance, not a previous total loss and not stolen.

10. Satisfied, the IP, unaware the vendor is a crook and the vehicle was obtained from another by FRAUD, hands over their hard-earned monies

Days, weeks, months may pass with the IP using the car day in, day out.  They could drive past ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) cameras frequently, none of which alert to a problem.  Then one day …

11. The CC company learns that the card was used FRAUDULENTLY, possibly the CC company has removed the funds from the dealer’s account.

12. The dealer, alerted to the issue, reports the matter to the police.

    • The dealer likely has no insurance for FRAUD – they may well have cover if the vehicle had been STOLEN

From here on, things start to go awry …

13. The police, local to the dealership, on receipt of the notification:

a. record the crime perpetrated against the dealership

b. place a LoS (lost or stolen) marker against the VRM (vehicle registration mark) on the PNC (police national computer)

This may be the extent of their activity, there may or may not be an investigation of the FRAUD but the police (above) have taken action.

14. Miles away, unaware of the development, the IP, driving their regular route, passes an ANPR camera which, due to the PNC entry against the VRM, now alerts

15. The police, local to the IP, in a different county to that where the FRUAD occurred, respond to the ANPR alert and descend upon the IP who may be:

    • Perplexed, distressed
    • Arrested
    • Held in a cell

16. The IP is released, bailed, the vehicle retained.

    • The IP likely has no insurance for the ‘FRAUD’ (they may well have if the car was ‘stolen’ from them)

17. The police resources associated with the alert are not insignificant; respond, arrest, incarcerate, bail and take custody fo the vehicle.

18. The IP now has ‘issues’ with their local constabulary; why have they done this, is it right … where is ‘my’ car?

19. The police seizing the car and arresting the IP may (or likely not) record the taking of the IP’s monies as a crime, as FRAUD.  However, the purchase was not on their ‘section’, not within their jurisdiction – the FRAUD occurred elsewhere.   The police may, at best, refer the IP to ‘ActionFraud’.

20. This same constabulary will then arrange for the vehicle to be passed to the constabulary recording the original (FRAUD) offence or directly to the original loser, the dealer.

21. It appears, from a police perspective, the status quo is returned:

    • The dealership has the car
    • The PNC LoS is removed
But what of the IP and their monies?

In our experience, the IP is ignored, treated differently and on occasions either provided no assistance or incorrect information – likely through ignorance, on occasions dismissively, without care or consideration.

A. The dealership was the subject of a FRAUD, so was the IP.  Why is one (the dealership) assisted, their crime recorded and acted upon, the other (IP) not?

B. Does the PNC accurately reflect the crime or is LoS interpreted as ‘the VRM is STOLEN’ (it was not)?

But possibly more seriously as it has obvious financial ramifications upon the IP and the constabulary:

C. Why have the IP’s local police engaged in what appears to be little more than a repossession service for the dealership and

D. On what (lawful) basis did they take possession of the car AND passed it to another (constabulary or original victim); why not leave it with the IP?

We raised these concerns years ago.  The offences are all FRAUD, yet the terminology, such as LoS (on PNC) leads an officer’s mind toward ‘THEFT’.  The dealership may consider the car was ‘STOLEN’.  The police may well believe that title to stolen property cannot pass – a civil consideration enshrined in NEM vs. Jones, or they may give it little thought but simply think this is right … unknowingly their consideration supported by the aforementioned judgement.

But should the police make such a decision?  Likely on many occasions, IP’s are misled; they believe the police, have respect and confidence in their word – they are told the vehicle was ‘stolen’, it belongs to another.  End of story.  But is it?

Having elected to take the vehicle into their custody, a constabulary could engage the Police Property Act (PPA) 1897 section 1 of which read:

Where any property has come into the possession of the police in connection with their investigation of a suspected offence a court of summary jurisdiction may, on the application, either by an officer of police or by a claimant of the property make an order for the delivery of the property to the person appearing to the magistrate or court to be the owner thereof, or if the owner, cannot be ascertained, make such order with respect to the property as to the magistrate or court may seem meet.

But this is costly, time-consuming.  Furthermore, as above, likely the IP simply believed the police, dropped the matter, took the loss on the chin.

NOTE: the vehicle was never STOLEN therefore, NEM vs. Jones does NOT apply. The vehicle was taken by FRAUD.

There is an argument that title CAN pass where the crime is that of FRAUD.  Remember that ‘window of opportunity‘ (above), the period between deceit and disposal, it could work in favour of the IP and a relevant Judgement is that of Lewis v Avery [1971] 3 All ER 907 the relevant dates are:

  • Date 1: the vehicle is acquired from the victim by FRAUD
  • Date 2: the vehicle is sold to an IP
  • Date 3: the victim (at ‘date 1’ above) reports the crime to the police

Simply put, if ‘2’ occurs before ‘3’, the title can pass to the IP, if ‘2’ occurs after ‘3’ title is retained by the victim (at ‘1’).

Further reading:


We assume you are an innocent purchaser who had no knowledge of the vehicle’s adverse history at purchase. The information contained within this site is provided free of charge. Whilst we use our best efforts to maintain the site, we are not responsible for the results of any defects that may be found to exist, or any lost profits or other consequential damages that may result from such defects.

No information contained within this site or supplied by Claims Management & Adjusting Ltd constitutes legal advice.