As if car thieves needed more inventive ways to dupe unsuspecting car buyers, a new trend has popped up called "vehicle cloning." According the FBI, a single bust of a Tampa vehicle cloning ring involving over 1,000 cars alone cost consumers and auto insurers well over $25 million in losses.
Vehicle cloning involves criminals taking a stolen vehicle and replacing its Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) with a different, legitimate one from a similar model. A car's VIN acts like a unique fingerprint for the vehicle, which countless agencies - from the local police to Carfax to the FBI - use in identifying the vehicle's history.
With the new VIN in place and additional fraudulent ownership documents in hand, the criminals will then register the vehicle in a different state and sell the car to an unsuspecting dealer or buyer.
Ways to protect yourself
If the price of a used car seems too good to be true, it's wise to take some early precautions to save future headaches down the road. If a vehicle turns out to be cloned from another one, not only is it confiscated, but the unwittingly duped owner may be held responsible for any damages or tickets, and may even get charged with organized crime.
In some states, the law will assist the victim and force the dealer to compensate for the confiscated vehicle. However, as the National Insurance Crime Bureau pointed out, in many states the buyer is left holding the bag.
Thankfully there are ways for a car buyer to protect themselves against this type of fraud. First and foremost, always obtain a car's vehicle history report. In addition to that, the NICB provides a free VINCheck service for anyone who suspects their vehicle might be cloned. If something seems amiss, contact local authorities immediately.
Once the vehicle clears these hurdles, be sure to get the right coverage for the vehicle. CoverHound provides affordable and reliable auto insurance from a user-friendly website.