Buying & Selling


If you think you may be the victim of fraud related to a vehicle you have purchased or sold, we are here to help you. We investigate cases where someone may have provided false information or not completed the legally required steps to obtain a vehicle title or registration. Title fraud happens when a person alters a vehicle title to misrepresent the true condition of a vehicle, provides false information to obtain a vehicle title, or gives false information in the application for the title process. Also, the failure to deliver a title or transfer a title is a violation of Iowa law.

Some examples of fraud include:

  • Failing to supply a certificate of title to the buyer of a vehicle at the time of the sale.
  • Failure to obtain a title in the buyer’s name after the purchase.
  • Providing false or forged information on an application for title or title document such as the date of sale, purchase price, odometer reading, disclosures, addresses, personal identifying information, signatures, etc.
  • Odometer fraud where the mileage disclosed does not accurately reflect the miles driven by the vehicle.
  • Tax fraud where the purchase price is under-reported, or an exemption improperly claimed to avoid payment of the tax (fee for new registration) in Iowa.
  • Using fraudulent or incorrect registration plates or validation decals on a vehicle.
  • Using altered or fraudulent temporary registration plates or misuse of dealer plates and/or temporary registration cards issued by the dealership. (Dealer can only issue one card).

Note: Complaints concerning the mechanical functioning and roadworthiness of a vehicle are considered civil and not criminal matters and are normally handled by an attorney you would hire to represent you. Complaints of this nature and cases where the amount of prior damage on a vehicle was disclosed incorrectly can also be reported to the Consumer Protection Division of Iowa's Office of Attorney General. You can also contact their office directly by calling 515-281-5926.

What should I do before I purchase a vehicle?

  • Check the title document for signs of tampering including erasure marks or misspellings.
  • Compare the vehicle identification number (VIN) on the vehicle to the VIN on the title. They must match. Also, make sure registration is up to date and not expired.
  • Verify the seller’s information on their driver’s license or ID card to ensure it matches the name on the title.
  • BEWARE of sales taking place in one state, while the seller’s address is in another.
  • BEWARE of a vehicle being sold for substantially less than a comparable make and model.
  • Review the vehicle history and make sure any applicable brands, such as salvage or flood, appear on the title, if they appear on the vehicle history.

You should never keep your title in the vehicle because it could allow a fraudster to add a lien or transfer ownership illegally.

Motor vehicle title and registration – timely transfer requirements

Iowa law requires a title or junking certificate to be delivered at the time of sale to the buyer, and the title needs to be transferred by the buyer within 30 days of a vehicle being purchased. (Exception: licensed car dealerships may transfer titles on behalf of their buyer and have 30 days to deliver the title paperwork to the County Treasurer’s Office).

How do I file a complaint?

If you believe you are a victim of any of the above violations, you may submit a Notice of Complaint Form.

One of our investigators will review the complaint and make the determination if an investigation will be conducted. The result of the investigation may include an investigator determining if a violation(s) of Iowa law has occurred and the pertinent charge(s) may be filed with the county attorney’s office. Printed complaint forms can be emailed to

If you would like to discuss a potential complaint or have questions, you can also email an investigator in your local area. Please include copies of your paperwork with the email.


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