Last updateTue, 15 Apr 2014 5pm

Back You are here: Home Mexican Lifestyles Mexican Lifestyles Living in Mexico Car import scammers run riot

Car import scammers run riot

Expats looking to nationalize their foreign-plated vehicles are being targeted in a series of scams that have involved fake paperwork, stolen license plates and basic out-and-out theft.

The situation has prompted Aduana (Mexican Customs) to seize the cars of several unsuspecting foreigners in recent weeks.

The con artists have even duped well-established and respected firms in the Lake Chapala area, including insurance brokers TioCorp.

For a fee payable to Aduana, foreign-plated vehicles from Nafta nations manufactured between 1989 and 2007 may be imported permanently and given Mexican plates.  (This regulation relaxes gradually each year: by 2019 the rule will disappear and all used cars may be imported.)

While legal scams have always been around in Mexico, the situation in expat enclaves has worsened since new immigration laws were enacted last year. Under the new rules, many foreigners living in Mexico on temporary resident visas have been obliged to change their status to permanent (residente permanente – formerly inmigrado), a category that excludes them from driving a foreign-plated vehicle.

This created a dilemma for dozens of foreigners who had brought their vehicles into Mexico on Temporary Importation Permits (TIPs).  First they had the option of taking their cars out of the country to either sell them or apply for a Permanent Import Permit at the border (a process that takes around three days, say knowledgeable sources).  The other option was to keep their cars here and “nationalize” them with the help of local brokers. 

Cue scam artists to enter the frame.

Looking to assist some of their many clients in the area, TioCorp was put in touch with an agency in Guadalajara called Gestoria Vehicular de Occidente, that, according to its website, had been in business since 1989 and had experience in handling the importation of vehicles without them having to leave the country.

Reg Cyr, a partner in TioCorp, told the Reporter that the Guadalajara company’s representative, Andres Gonzalez Hernandez, had been recommended by some of TioCorp’s clients and by others doing business at Lakeside.

“We spent three hours with them in their office and they looked as bona fide as anybody I could imagine,” Cyr said.

TioCorp advertised the service, customers signed up and began to hand over their deposits. All seemed to be going well when TioCorp received the first batch of pedimentos (importation paperwork) in mid April.

“We were happy when eight (pedimentos) showed up and they said by next week you’ll have another 20,” Cyr said.

By then some 100 clients had signed up with TioCorp to import their cars.

However, hell broke out when the first client took her car and pedimento to Aduana’s validation center in Guadalajara – the final stage of the process. The paperwork turned out to be phony. The car was seized and the client detained. 

Thankfully, Chapala area lawyer Spencer McMullen managed to secure her release and convinced authorities that the intermediaries in Guadalajara, and not TioCorp, had falsified the documents. 

According to Cyr, Gestoria Vehicular de Occidente hadn’t generated new pedimentos, but had taken an existing one, copied it many times, and by whiting out the original information were able to add the details of other cars to be imported. These were then printed out to look like the real documents.

“This meant that the pedimentos had a valid number, so when you went to the Aduana website they showed up as having been processed and approved,” Cyr said. “But they were fake.”  

(Applicants can consult the status of their pedimento at but McMullen stressed that the page has two options: to check by “patente” and to check by “VIN “ or Vehicle Identification Number.  If the pedimento is a fraud, the VIN option will not work, he said.)

By the time the scam surfaced, Gonzalez Hernandez had disappeared with a wad of money (none of it paid to Aduana) and the Guadalajara office of Gestoria Vehicular de Occidente was not answering its phone.  The firm, located on Avenida de la Paz, no longer appears to exist, this newspaper discovered.

The fraud was a tough hit for TioCorp, Cyr said.  Deposits had totaled upward of 800,000 pesos, he noted.

But rather than wait for the slow legal process to unfold and recover the money, TioCorp offered its clients immediate 50 percent refunds, with the balance to be made up with discounts on insurance premiums until they recovered 100 percent.

“We have already returned more than 400,000 pesos,” Cyr said. 

In a press release circulated by TioCorp, the company stated: “We acted in good faith and have taken steps to make it as right as we can for our clients.”

But these Guadalajara scammers aren’t the only ones looking to prey on foreigners seeking to legalize their vehicles, said McMullen. According to the lawyer, one law office in the Lake Chapala area has collected money from clients this year and is giving out pedimentos dated back to 2011 – an obvious giveaway that they are fake, he said.  In addition, they have received phony registration cards (tarjetas de circulacion) and stolen license plates. 

McMullen reckons as many as 20 foreigners may be driving with stolen tags and recommends those who have any doubts to go to the federal Public Security Agency website at  Here you can enter a Mexican license plate number and check whether it has been reported as stolen.

McMullen said anyone stopped with a vehicle bearing stolen license plates will most likely be thrown in jail.

In addition, the lawyer added, no vehicle can be considered “nationalized” unless it has passed through the verification process, which can take up to five hours.  Only at the end of this step are Mexican registration cards and license tags handed over.

McMullen, who said 90 percent of the importation paperwork he has reviewed over the past two years has been fake, believes the situation has reached epidemic proportions.

Some intermediaries are taking money from clients and not even bothering to hand over fake documents before disappearing off the radar, he said.

Cyr said TioCorp will act cautiously in the future after getting its fingers burned. “We’ve been scouring around to locate other brokers and of course we are doubly shy of all of them now.  Our bottom line is that we cannot come up with an answer, so perhaps it’s best take your car to the border.” 

However, Spencer Schulman, owner of S&S Auto and a 20-year lakeside businessman, says he is working directly with an import agent at the U.S.-Mexico border and expects to know shortly whether the importation process can be completed satisfactorily and legally without the need for vehicles to be taken out of the country.

See next week’s Reporter for an update on further issues related to this story, including the “safe return” program.

Site Map


  • Email Us
  • 1-800-024-9432
  • 333-615-2177
  • 333-615-0606