AUSTIN (KXAN) – Several Austin neighbors received unexpected bad news after they unsuspectingly bought stolen cars with fake titles through Craigslist and then tried to register the cars with authorities, police said.

Police said they received several reports of people showing up at a North Austin DMV in February with fictitious Texas Certificates of Title, according to an arrest warrant filed Wednesday.

“Each person advised they responded to a Craigslist advertisement, paid cash, received a key, were presented a bill of sale and a certificate of title — later learned to be fictitious,” the warrant states.

In one case, a daughter was detained while trying to register her newly bought pickup truck at the Travis County Tax Annex Office in Pflugerville. Her father had unwittingly purchased the truck from 25-year-old suspect Alfonzo Hensley the previous day. Hensley gave the man a forged title, police said.

“It was kind of cheap. That’s why it was hard to believe,” said Zurishadai Celestino. Before long, they had paid $7,000 for a 2003 Ford F-250.  But Travis County deputies say anytime the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is, especially with vehicles sold online.

Police set up a sting operation in February, posing as buyers for a car posted on Craigslist. They met with Hensley, and he matched the resemblance of a Craigslist car seller photographed by one of the people he tried to prey upon, police said.

Hensley has been charged with two counts of theft, both state jail felonies, and one count of tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony.

Celestino said authorities impounded the truck, which the entire family pitched in to buy.

“My mom spent less money grocery shopping. I spent less money on clothes,” said Celestino.  “And my dad started saving a lot of money.”

But she says it was not a complete loss for the family. They were able to keep saving and buy a new truck, all while keeping a very important lesson in mind.

“Everything happens for a purpose and now we understand that we have to be prudent in our everyday life,” Celestino added.Avoid Buying a Stolen Vehicle

  • When buying from a private individual, make sure the title and registration match the name and address of the person selling the car.
  • Be cautious of a seller with no fixed address, place of employment or phone number.
  • Ask the seller for references about past financing and insurance on the vehicle. Verify the information with the bank, finance company or agent.
  • Ensure the vehicle identification number (VIN) on the automobile’s dash is present, secure and unaltered.
  • Check to ensure the VIN plate has not been repainted and the numbers stamped in the plate appear to be the original factory numbers.
  • If in doubt about plate authenticity, check with a new car dealer who handles the same model, or contact a law enforcement agency. (Thieves may remove the VIN plate and replace it with one from a similar wrecked vehicle.)
  • Be suspicious of any deal that seems “too good to be true.”
Source: Texas Department of Motor Vehicles