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Keith Griffin

FBI Smashes Auto Theft Ring – Is the VIN on Your Used Car Stolen?

By March 24, 2009

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CNN.com reports the troubling story of the “FBI breaking up one of the largest auto theft cases in the U.S. The suspects were accused of ‘cloning’ vehicles, which is making stolen cars look like legal ones. The FBI says that the ring was operating in the U.S. for more than 20 years. More than 1,000 vehicles were stolen in Florida, with more than $25 million in losses to consumers and banks.” Basically, the thieves copied vehicle identification numbers (known as VINs) off legitimate cars and put them on identical stolen cars.

In my article on inspecting a used car I tell folks to match the vehicle identification number on the registration with the one on the car to make sure everything matches. Well, as this car ring proved, even that may not be enough.

So, if you’re buying a used car from a private seller or a dealer who makes you nervous, have your mechanic confirm the vehicle identification numbers when doing the inspection. Lots of makes and models have the VIN also etched on their transmission or engine. That makes it more difficult, but not impossible, for thieves to steal vehicle identification numbers like they did in this case.

On its website, the FBI advises getting a vehicle history report on any used car you are purchasing, as well as offering this great piece of advice: “Trust your intuition—if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!”

April 6, 2009 at 2:05 pm
(1) Robert Stinnett says:

To be honest, I’m surprised it has taken this long for the scammers to figure this one out. However, I will point out that this same practice happened in a much smaller scale for years. It’s one of the reasons that some states (Kansas is an example) where they not only check the VIN on the door jamb/window but also look for the VIN number on the engine block as well.

Buying a used car without a history report (preferrably CARFAX!) is like buying a new house without doing a title search. Dumb, dumb, dumb!

May 6, 2009 at 7:52 am
(2) Ken says:

Re: CARFAX. It’s not the answer either. The accuracy rate of their information is flawed. They make a lot of mistakes and have been taken to court often. Because of that they now put disclaimers on the info. I recently considered buying a new car and trading in my 2002 model. The dealer showed me a CARFAX report indicating my vehicle had a history of two major accidents based on the VIN, in my home state. I bought my car new and it has never been in an accident. I was at the same dealer where I bought it. They checked it with their equipment and knew it hadn’t been in an accident. CARFAX won’t change bogus information. Read the fine print, they don’t guarantee any of the information, and tell you to get it inspected. Most states don’t allow them access to state records so you have to wonder where they get the info. I’m astounded that anyone would pay money for a CARFAX report, much less believe what’s on it. Google CARFAX and when you get to the second, third and fourth pages you start to read about the problems people have had with bogus CARFAX reports. Their claim of paying in case of a mistake is bogus too, since they disavow mistakes.

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