Buying a car? Check for ‘VIN cloning’

Wednesday, February 04, 2015


Consumer Action warns car-buying consumers about the dangers of VIN (vehicle identification number) cloning on stolen cars. If you buy a vehicle with a falsified VIN and it’s discovered by law enforcement, the car will be confiscated, and you’ll still be on the hook for any outstanding loans on the car—even if you were the innocent victim of the scam. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the stolen vehicles are usually luxury cars or fully-loaded SUVs.

To clone the ID number, car thieves steal a car and replace its VIN plate with one that has a legitimate number from a vehicle of similar make and model in a different state. Then they create fraudulent paperwork for the stolen car and attempt to register it in another state.

Before purchasing any car, check its VIN through the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS). If the car was titled in another state, NMVTIS should show that the VIN is already in use.

The FBI has compiled some warning signs of the VIN cloning scam:

  • If you think your car was cloned (for instance, you receive notice of unpaid parking tickets that aren’t yours), contact your local police.
  • If you’re car shopping, beware of a car being sold for substantially less than comparable makes and models.
  • Get a copy of the car’s vehicle history report.
  • Check out the VIN plate on the dashboard for any evidence of tampering (scratches, etc.).
  • Look for incorrect spellings on paperwork, like vehicle titles.
  • Trust your intuition—if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

Consumers who believe they are victims of this fraud should contact their local police department and their state's attorney general.

Consumer Action offers many free multilingual publications on how to protect yourself from frauds and scams. Click here to view these materials. Also, follow Consumer Action's Alerts and Headline News on our home page.

Consumer Action, founded in 1971, is a national education and advocacy organization based in San Francisco, with offices in Los Angeles and Washington, DC.




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