Stolen Vehicles & VIN Fraud

Types of VIN Fraud

VIN fraud is the act of replacing or altering a vehicle identification number (VIN) in order to mislead consumers or law enforcement. It often occurs in conjunction with vehicle theft. The two most common types of VIN fraud include:

  • VIN cloning: Taking an entire VIN from a legally registered vehicle.
  • VIN altering: Changing one or more characters of a VIN.

VIN Cloning

The most common method of vehicle or auto fraud, VIN cloning involves taking a VIN from a similar, legally registered vehicle and placing it on damaged or stolen property to hide its identity.

This allows criminals to:

  • Evade law enforcement.
  • Sell a stolen vehicle to an unsuspecting buyer.

Because it can be hard to detect, VIN cloning has become an increasingly popular low-risk option for criminals seeking to sell stolen property.

Car thieves can obtain registered VINs by:

  • Taking a VIN from a registered, recently salvaged vehicle in a junk yard.
  • Copying VINs from the windows of vehicles in dealerships or parking lots.
  • Stealing a VIN from the Internet.

With relatively low-tech equipment such as a computer, typewriter, and barcode label printer, criminals can counterfeit VIN plates, stickers, labels, and even vehicle title documents.

Why VIN Cloning Is Dangerous

When a criminal clones a VIN, it often results in two or more registered vehicles on the road with the same vehicle identification number. Stolen vehicles with cloned VINs are sometimes taken to a different state and sold. The victim of VIN fraud is often unaware of what's happened until their vehicle winds up in the same state as the originally registered vehicle.

In most situations, the unknowing new owner of a stolen car or truck incurs the loss of property when authorities are forced to impound the vehicle. Other dangers of VIN cloning include:

  • The possibility that a cloned vehicle was registered BEFORE the legitimate vehicle.
  • The burden of proving to law enforcement that you weren't involved in the cloning of a VIN.

VIN Altering

The altering of a vehicle identification number can have serious implications. In most states, VIN altering is a felony offense that often results in jail time.

VIN altering is defined as as:

  • Knowingly removing a VIN from a vehicle.
  • Destroying a VIN so that it's unreadable.
  • Changing the numbers or characters of a VIN.
  • Any other form of tampering.

Most often, VIN altering is a criminal act meant to mislead potential buyers or law enforcement. However, it is also common for a VIN to be removed and reattached during restoration. By law, this can result in judicial punishment.

How to Avoid VIN Fraud

While detection of VIN fraud can sometimes be difficult to detect, there are several measures you can take to prevent fraud from occurring. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NCIB) recommends you:

  • Use caution when purchasing a car or truck from a seller using only a cell phone number as their contact information.
  • Run a VIN check for any cars you're interested in purchasing.
  • Get your insurer to check for possible clones in their database.
  • Conduct a title search.
  • Thoroughly inspect the VIN on the vehicle.
    • Check the dash, the sticker on the driver's door, and/or the car frame.
    • Make sure each VIN matches all title documents and service records.
    • Ensure the VIN plate hasn't been tampered with.
  • Have the vehicle inspected by a professional mechanic.

Reporting VIN Fraud

If you suspect that you've become a victim of vehicle or auto fraud, contact the authorities immediately. The NCIB offers the following reporting methods:

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