Police Warn Of Craigslist Auto-Theft Scam

Thieves Prey On Craigslist, Auto Trader Vehicle Sellers

Metro Denver authorities are investigating an interstate auto-theft scam that targets people who sell their vehicles on Craigslist or Auto Trader.

Authorities have arrested two suspects, identified as Othello Bland of Aurora and Chelsea Getchell of Eugene, Ore., Detective Bill Johnson of the Denver Metropolitan Auto Theft Task Force told TheDenverChannel.com on Tuesday. He added that investigators suspect there are others involved in the scam.

In the elaborate ruse, the thieves call a victim who has listed a vehicle for sale on Craiglist.org or AutoTrader.com, Johnson said. The male or female caller would ask to inspect the vehicle.

The scam artist often told the unsuspecting seller a sad story that her car was damaged in an accident and her insurance firm was replacing it, Johnson said. The scam artist added that her insurance firm would issue a check directly to the car seller.

Then an accomplice would call the car seller posing as an insurance agent, using a technology gimmick to make the caller ID show a well-known insurance firm name, Johnson said.

"So, you think you're talking to a legitimate insurance agent with Allstate or Liberty Mutual," Johnson said. "That just brings you in further."

The fake insurance agent would ask the seller for information about their car, he said.

Then the scam artist returns to give the seller a bogus check that appears to be issued by the insurance firm. In exchange the seller signs over their vehicle title to the thief who drives off in the car, Johnson said.

"It takes about a week before you find out the check is bogus," Johnson said.

By then, the thieves have sold the car for cash to another victim who is unknowingly paying for a stolen car, he said.

Investigators suspect that Bland may have attempted to purchase or sell vehicles under the business name AJ’s Auto Brokers in the metro area with a phone number using a 720 area code.

Highlands Ranch residents Nicole and Scott Barton were targets of the scam after they posted their car for sale on Craigslist.

"I actually felt really sorry for the girl because she gave us this really sad sob story," said Nicole Barton.

The Bartons said Getchell told them she had been in a car accident and that Allstate was helping her acquire a new car.

They said they even got a call from what appeared to be an Allstate representative.

"The check had watermarks on it and everything," said Scott Barton, who handed over the keys. "But three or four days later, the funds were gone. I felt sick to my stomach, helpless."

Fortunately, they said, during the investigation and arrests, detectives tracked down their car.

"It was a miracle. There was nothing wrong with it, no scratches, nothing," said Nicole Barton.

They posted their car for sale on Craigslist again, but this time met the buyer at a bank to verify the account.

Getchell was arrested on Sept. 9 in Oregon on a Nebraska warrant associated with the auto-theft investigation, Johnson said. Bland was arrested in Aurora on Aug. 11 by task force investigators on a Kansas auto-theft warrant, Johnson said. Bland is being held on a $1 million bond in the Johnson County, Kan., jail.

Bland, who investigators describe as a sophisticated con man, is suspected in seven auto-theft cases in Denver, Arapahoe, Adams, Jefferson and Douglas counties, Johnson said. He also has auto-theft warrants out of Nebraska, Idaho and Iowa.

Bland was also a suspect in several 2007 car-theft cases in metro Denver, Johnson said. His then-girlfriend and accomplice was convicted in Idaho auto thefts, but she would not cooperate in the investigation of Bland.

The vehicle thefts involve interstate transportation of stolen vehicles, counterfeiting cashiers checks, criminal impersonation, forgery and money laundering, Johnson said.

The task force asks anyone with information on the scam to contact Johnson at 303-987-4905.