As more families look to stretch their dollar, buying a used car, instead of new, is increasingly popular. Unfortunately, some law enforcement agencies are reporting that VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) cloning, which targets used car buyers, is on the rise. The Better Business Bureau advises car buyers to do their research or they could unknowingly purchase a stolen car.
One scam that specifically plagues used car buyers is VIN cloning. VIN cloning is basically a form of vehicle identity theft. It is used by car thieves to sell stolen cars. According to Carfax, as many as 225,000 of the 1.5 million cars stolen every year have been subjected to VIN cloning.
VIN cloning has two victims. The first is the victim who had their car stolen. The second is the unsuspecting buyer. When the police find the stolen car, and return it to the rightful owner, the new owner will suddenly have no car and no way to get his or her money back.
Sometimes the thieves will punch out a new VIN plate and replace the stolen vehicle's VIN with the new one. Also they could use computer technology to print out authentic looking documents with phony VINs. The last step is selling the vehicle, usually through classified ads or other informal methods. Some altered vehicles end up in auctions, sold through classifieds or on unsuspecting used car lots.
When police are able to track down stolen cars they will seize the car from the buyer and there is usually little recourse for the unsuspecting buyer to get his or her money back.
BBB recommends taking the following steps to avoid becoming a victim of VIN cloning:
• Be extremely cautious if you see a late model luxury car or suv selling significantly under normal market price.
• Do not fall for the "we need cash quickly" excuse. Exercise due diligence.
• Check the VIN number on the dashboard, inside the door, and under the hood against the car's title documents for discrepancies.
• Closely examine the car's title, registration and other documents. Fake documents sometimes contain misspelled words.
• If you still have questions about the validity of the vehicle's VIN, obtain a comprehensive vehicle history report.
• If you believe your car has been cloned (one giveaway according to the FBI is if you receive a notice for unpaid parking tickets) contact your local law enforcement.
For more advice on shopping for a new or used car, visit www.bbb.org