Imagine buying a car you've always wanted, only to find out it was stolen, or even have it repossessed from your driveway.
It's a scenario that's been seen across the country as a result of a growing scam called V.I.N cloning.
A thief steals a car, then copies or "clones" the V.I.N number of a similar legally registered car to hide the fact that the car is stolen.
There are several ways someone can clone a V.I.N number. One way is someone steals a car, then looks for a similar car somewhere else, like a parking lot. Then, they copy down the V.I.N number displayed in the dashboard, and have a new V.I.N plate made to cover the V.I.N of the stolen car.
CarFax spokesperson Larry Gamache says some thieves don't even have to do that much work. They can seek help overseas.
"If you're looking for a 2009 Honda Accord, they'll actually ship you a V.I.N plate for another 2009 Honda Accord. They've done all the work for you, you just have to place the order online and then it comes shipped to your mailbox," explained Gamache.
Gamache says various companies actually specialize in making fraudulent documents.
Kelso says there are some more drastic techniques that aren't as popular. "The piece of dash is removed or there's a hole cut out where that V.I.N is. It's quite difficult to get to."
There are several things car-buyers can do to make sure they're not buying a stolen car. Kelso says there are multiple places that the V.I.N number is listed on a car. Make sure all of the numbers match up.
It's also a red flag if the car has been registered in more than one state at a time, or several states in a short period of time.
Kelso says dealerships take their own precautions as well to make sure they're not buying used, stolen cars. Some memorize the fonts that each manufacturer uses to make their V.I.N plates. "We have a V.I.N scanning tool which we can actually plug into the vehicles onboard computer which will extract the V.I.N that's designated with that particular vehicle," explained Kelso.
Car experts say the best safeguard is thoroughly checking out a car before making the big purchase.
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