Authorities battle high-tech STOLEN CAR SELLING METHODS like VIN CLONING
By Noah Haglund
Can you imagine buying a used car, paying a lot of money for it, and having the government repo it? The officer will show you that the VIN plate on the dash doesn't match the VINS hidden in the rest of the chassis. That VIN WAS CLONED! It's terrible but it happens. CAVEAT EMPTOR! BUYER BEWARE!
The wonderful, very useful CRAIGS LIST and OTHER INTERNET CLASSIFIEDS have made VIN CLONING the new way that a thief can nail you for a stack of thousand dollar bills: Here's how he does it:
It's like the old HUNGARIAN recipe for Chicken Paprikosh. First you steal a car. Before they steal the car, they have the VIN of a similar car in another state. Then they go to your state and the thieves steal a car that matches its make and year. Any potential buyer who checks the vehicle identification number, or VIN, would go on CARFAX & instantly find out that it's HOT if the VIN NUMBER were correct, but it isn't. It's a counterfeit plate or plaque. The car is stolen. Thieves can sell hot cars but with a shady past, a car will fetch only a fraction of its actual value. With a clean history, however, it will command much more. Cloning a GOOD VIN number in some other state erases obvious signs that the car was stolen. SWITCHING a VIN, which some call the car's "fingerprint," isn't that hard for a determined criminal. All vehicles made in 1981 or later have the 17-digit serial number stamped on the dashboard and inside the driver's door. Police use it to check for stolen vehicles, mechanics to identify the correct replacement parts and manufacturers for recalls.
After stealing their car, thieves head to another state. But before they left, they either wrote down the VIN of a parked car, or found a car at a dealership. Then, they make a counterfeit plate of that VIN number and swap it for the original DASHBOARD VIN on the stolen car. What thieves often do NOT switch is the other vins hidden on the chassis. They will do the two that you're most likely to look at.
Thieves can then register the duplicate car i.e. "HOT wheels" using an altered or counterfeit title from a different state. Since most state Departments of Motor Vehicles don't communicate with each other, the state you are in doesn't catch on.
Cops report that they've come across cars that have been cloned more than a dozen times. Meaning your VIN NUMBER is being ridden around in by other victims.
Jason King, a spokesman for American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, said the lack of a system for sharing title histories among all 50 states creates a situation "ripe for fraud." A 1992 law mandated a system that would allow all DMV offices to do this, but other priorities, such as homeland security and the pre-millennium Y2K readjustment, intervened.
Currently, 14 state DMVs can share this information in real time through the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, he said. About two-thirds submit information to the database. The South Carolina DMV is developing an interface that should give the state access to the database by July 2009, communications coordinator Jean Smolen said. The department received a U.S. Department of Justice grant for the project. But the way the economy is going, don't count on this.
"The good news is that while VIN-cloning is a bit of an epidemic," King said, "there is an antidote." IT IS THIS:
-- Don't buy a car sitting on the side of the road. If the seller doesn't come out of a home which is furnished, which is definitely his home and have ID that ties him to that home, a driver's license or passport, don't buy! Also, you must take that data; and take a digital photo of him, front and profile with your cell phone and put it on your computer later. He won't allow this? Then don't buy a car from him. Don't even buy it from an old woman without that personal and photo I.D.
-- Check all the identification numbers on the paperwork, as well as on the car itself and again, the seller.
-- Check the vehicle's history through the National Insurance Crime Bureau's Web site or services offered by private companies (see below). Some experts recommend using the NICB service plus one of the other databases.
Some online sites help check for problems, though no current service is complete. The thief will not offer you a car stolen in YOUR STATE, but in another state. In addition to theft and fraudulent registrations, these can be a tip-off to problems such as a major accident, odometer tampering, police use and damage from floods, fire or hail. To guard against VIN-cloning, pay close attention to multiple titles in different states.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau's free VINCheck on www.nicb.org shows whether a vehicle is reported stolen or declared a total loss from damage. It includes information on flood vehicles. (i.e. rescued from under a LAKE.)
Some pay services provide more complete information. These include AutoCheck, www.autocheck.com, and CarFax, www.carfax.com.
-- VIN-cloning is a growing trend.
-- 1.3 million vehicles are stolen each year.
-- Auto fraud is a profitable business.
-- Auto theft costs consumers and insurance companies $8 billion per year. Not to mention the people who buy them carelessly as the Gov repos them and you get nothing for your trouble, and lost the money the thief took!
-- Only 63 percent of stolen vehicles are recovered.
-- Some 570,000 vehicles were affected by 2005 hurricanes. These vehicles are now ideal targets for title fraud ("brand washing").
Call it ID theft for cars.
Some law-abiding citizens have been surprised to be pulled over on suspicion of driving a stolen car. Often, the car isn't stolen, but its identity is — it's been cloned.
"It's the newest trend, mostly in high-end vehicle theft," said Dave Ecklund, a locally based special agent with the National Insurance Crime Bureau. "It's identity theft for vehicles, simply put."
This scam reaches a higher level of sophistication than the auto-theft ring busted up last month that detectives say involved a 30-something blonde and others who distracted dealership employees so they could switch fake keys for the real ones and have somebody drive off with the vehicles later.
Stealing the identity of cars originated in Canada in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Ecklund said he has assisted on about 15 such cases in the Lowcountry in the past couple of years. Problems don't usually appear until the owner makes an insurance claim or gets pulled over by police.
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