No, we’re not talking about stem cell issues here – that’s much too controversial for an automotive repair magazine these days. But what we are referring to is vehicle identification number (VIN) cloning.
According to a common vehicle history reporting service business, thousands of used car buyers and owners today are victimized by scam artists stealing their identity – their car’s identity, that is. Out of the 1.5 million vehicles stolen in the U.S. each year, more than 225,000 end up with the VIN from a legally owned vehicle and are resold. This scam, which has been around for a while, is called "VIN cloning," and it’s estimated that it costs consumers and insurance companies $4 billion each year.
VIN cloning occurs when VINs from cars out of Canada or Mexico are duplicated and placed on stolen cars of a similar make and model. Thieves, using these phony VINs, have the vehicles retitled in the U.S.
Of course, you may have heard of a few other ways unscrupulous people can illegally retitle a car using the VIN.
One way is where someone goes to a junkyard where there is a "pick your own parts" policy, snags a VIN tag from the dashboard and uses that to replace the VIN on the (stolen) good vehicle’s dashboard. Interestingly, some car thieves have even obtained "new" VINs by swiping the plate or the number from vehicles sitting at dealerships or in parking lots.
A stolen vehicle is then retitled with the stolen VIN, and unless someone checks all the VIN locations on a car, it’s tough to catch.
Then there’s "title washing," where someone uses a counterfeit title to obtain a clean one. This normally happens when someone buys a salvaged title and then they go to another state that has lax titling laws. There, they obtain a title by saying the vehicle has been rebuilt. Since the title now states the vehicle is rebuilt and not salvaged, they use it for the stolen vehicle.
The problem is, as vehicle thefts increase, more consumers (your customers) could find themselves paying for someone else’s crime. If your shop provides safety vehicle inspections for your customers who are buying a pre-owned vehicle, you might be able to save them some headaches in the future with a vehicle theft inspection. Below are steps you can take to help a customer avoid taking possession of "cloned" vehicles:
Check to be sure the VIN on the dashboard matches the VIN on the door, under the hood and in other key locations on the vehicle.
Examine documentation and maintenance records to be sure the VIN on the paperwork matches those of the vehicle.
Obtain a comprehensive vehicle history report and compare the information in the report such as the vehicle specifications, mileage history and title or registration locations. It could uncover inconsistencies that may reveal potential "clones."
You also should contact local law enforcement if you suspect a vehicle in your shop is a VIN cloned car.
By offering this stolen vehicle inspection service for a nominal fee (maybe the price of the vehicle history report) your expertise might make you some future customers for life. Some information presented here is courtesy of Carfax, Inc.