How to Protect Yourself From VIN Fraud
There are hundreds of VIN-related scams reported every year in the U.S. VIN stands for ‘vehicle identification number’. This number is a car’s ‘fingerprint’ and details its life, its use, and its misuse. VIN fraud typically shows up in the form of VIN cloning, VIN tampering, and VIN removal. Used vehicle buyers really need to guard against this type of fraud. You could easily get caught in the crosshairs if you’re found driving a car with this kind of scam attached to it. The worst thing to happen is to get charged with a felony when you’re completely innocent! Fortunately, there are ways to guard against such mishaps.
What Is VIN Fraud?
This is when a VIN is replaced or altered with the aim to mislead consumers or law enforcement. Often, the car is stolen and then sold to someone else. However, even used car salesmen have been found to commit this crime.
VIN fraud is especially problematic for those who buy cars from these fraudsters. For example, if you have a car loan and your car is confiscated, you will still have to pay any outstanding loans on it. You could also find yourself embroiled in accusations of things like unpaid parking fines and organized crime.
According to internet identity theft statistics, millions of people fall victim to VIN-fraud but have to clean up the mess, so to speak. Unfortunately, defending these claims can be a costly and time-consuming process. Understanding the different types of VIN fraud is one step towards guarding against it.
The Types of VIN Fraud
VIN cloning and VIN tampering are the 2 most common types of VIN fraud. Vehicle cloning has risen at a cost of more than $36 million in fraudulent car transactions! Let’s delve into the fraud types more closely:
VIN Cloning: This is where an entire VIN is removed from a legally registered vehicle and is then counterfeited to be used in a stolen car. Many times, the stolen VIN numbers are from salvaged, totaled, or scrapped cars bought by the thieves at bargain prices.
The stolen VIN could be from a car in a different state, with a similar make and model as the stolen one. Fraudsters literally pry off the originally installed VIN plate from the stolen vehicle and replace it with the cloned one. The cloning is finalized in conjunction with other fake ownership documents.
VIN Tampering: This is where one or more of the VIN characters are altered. Fraudsters usually alter a VIN so that it’s impossible for law enforcement to verify or trace the vehicle.
There are also cases where the VIN is completely absent in the car. If you cannot find the VIN at all, that is a huge red flag. You won’t be able to register the car at all in such cases. So it is best you run away, and run fast!
It is a misdemeanor to deliberately alter, destroy, or deface vehicle identifiers without authorization by the relevant bodies. VIN fraudsters typically register the stolen vehicles anew and sell those to mostly unsuspecting victims.
This results in millions of dollars in losses to auto insurers, consumers, and other members of the public. The government has made some attempts to curb this illegal activity but crafty scammers find ways to keep up.
Protect Yourself From Becoming a Victim
Alright, that’s enough of the bad news. There are plenty of ways that you can protect yourself from VIN fraud. Here are some great tips:
- When car shopping, be vigilant. This includes being wary of cars that are being sold for way below market price for similar makes and models. Of course, there are lots of genuine bargains out there. But go with your gut when you see really cheap prices.
- Do your research and obtain a copy of the car history report. Also, be cautious if this report shows that a car has been previously scrapped, crushed, or heavily damaged. This may indicate that the car was stolen.
- You should actually ask the seller for the VIN before meeting up. This way you can run the number through stolen car databases.
- Contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles. They will be able to verify if the VIN for a car is matched appropriately.
- Request a bill of sale from the seller and run a title check. Also, check for spelling errors on the title and all other paperwork.
- Avoid making payment without meeting the seller. Make sure you meet them in a public location where you feel safe.
- Get the car professionally inspected before parting with your hard-earned money. Bring along a trusted mechanic when you are meeting and going to see the car.
- Do not pay in cash. It’s wise to have a paper trail for all transactions.
- When you do meet up with the seller, examine the ownership documents and car very carefully. In most vehicles, the VIN can be found below the windshield, on the dashboard, on the driver’s door, or on the driver’s side doorpost.
- Examine the VIN closely by ensuring it matches the number on the registration documents. In fact, you should make sure the VIN is the same everywhere that it can be found in the car.
- Check to see if there are any marks or etches on the VIN. This could indicate that the number has been overwritten or tampered with.
- If you think there is an issue with the VIN, ask the seller for records of any work that was carried out on the car.
- In the case of rebuilt vintage cars, you have the right to know to what extent it has been modified.
- Make sure to register the car immediately after you buy it.
- If you have any suspicions of fraud, be quick to contact your local police. One reason to be suspicious is if you get a notice of unpaid parking tickets that you know you were not responsible for.
At the end of the day, due diligence is crucial. As mentioned above, the car history report is actually one of the best tools in this regard. In addition, when you are doing your due diligence, report all suspicious activity or findings to the police. You can also report suspected cases of fraud to the National Insurance Crime Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. By reporting these scams you also help to protect others from becoming victims.