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That car in your driveway - if you paid it off, it's yours. Right?

Don't be so sure.

The experience of one Dallas family shows how anybody with a tow truck and official-looking documents can take your car, rough up your child and disrupt your life, while law enforcement officials say they are powerless.

Anybody can walk in, said Page Patton Tucker of University Park. Write up an order, have no justification, no validation, no nothing and they can take a car.

She's looking at a 2006 Honda she paid cash for in December, a birthday gift for her daughter, Anna Katherine (nicknamed A.K.)

The Honda is parked in their driveway now. But one Saturday last month, Ms. Tucker got a frantic call from her daughter, saying a man with a truck was towing the vehicle away.

AK, a petite, but strong-minded 16-year-old, hopped on the running board of the tow truck. The driver started moving and kept going.

A few minutes later, her mom got home.

And she is down the street about four houses, blood everywhere, said Ms. Tucker. She was screaming, surrounded by neighbors and bleeding.

The following day, they got the car back. Only to have it towed again when they were away from home ten days later.

How could this happen?

Numerous discussions with two police departments, car dealers and the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles indicate the Tucker's car was on someone's radar. Even though they'd paid for the car, someone in the vehicle's past had not been paid, which initiated an unseen and undocumentable repossession order.

Typically, when police see a repo order, in this case the University Park police, they regard the case as a matter between a finance company and the car owner, a so-called civil matter. The University Park police took an incident report each time the car was towed, but saythis is just sucha civil matter.

There is no standardized repo form for a tow truck driver to show an owner or the police. The documents could be forged. The only recourse an owner has is to take someone to court.

In the Tucker's case, they can't even find out who that someone might be.

A clue lurked behind the glove compartment, which had been ripped out. Car dealers often put tracking devices there, to follow vehicles with outstanding loans.

Dealers are supposed to tell the car owner, and the Tuckers were never told of a tracking device. At any rate, there shouldn't have been one anyway, because they paid for the vehicle outright.

They bought the car from Barrett Motor Sports, one of dozens of used car lots on Garland Avenue in Garland.

Although Barrett's website shows an inventory of many vehicles, his lot is empty. We called owner Dustin Barrett, who by Tucker's account, assisted in getting the car back on both the occasions it was towed. Barrett agreed to be interviewed, but never returned a call.

A-Alert Towing, which traces to a ranch house in south Arlington, towed the vehicle. It is a one-truck operation.

But all a driver needs is one truck, some paperwork and a quick hook-up to gain possession of a car.

Peter Santiago of A-Alert did not return phone calls.

Another player in this case is Auction Credit, which finances auto dealers' inventories. Auction Credit appears in the vehicle's past. It's manager, Joe Madrid, returned a call, but through a lawyer declined comment.

Ms. Tucker is beyond frustration.

I, Page Tucker, can go out and write up a phony repo order in anyone's name, with a phony address, take it to a driver, and nothing will happen, she said.

Although the Department of Motor Vehicles provides an online service for buyers to look up the past of a vehicle they may be buying, it does not include lien information. Nor do commercial services.

The best plan is dealing with a reputable dealer, the state says. And after the sale, buyers should make sure the dealer files for a title in their name within 30 days, as required by law.

E-mail bharris@wfaa.com

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