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Used Car Cloning Scams

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Used Car Cloning Scams

David Leonhardt
February 20, 2008

Surprise! That used car you just paid for might not be legally yours. If you have never heard of “car cloning”, the latest scam on the market, this article might save you from making a big mistake the next time you buy a used car.

Did you know that one in three used cars has something to hide? In many cases it is something as innocuous as an owner was a little lazy and failed to get maintenance done as frequently as he should have. Nothing new there, right? In other cases, it could be that the car has been in a serious accident, flood damaged, or in fact stolen.

The latest trend is vehicle cloning. Thieves take the vehicle identification number or VIN from a legitimate vehicle and slap it onto a stolen car. Because each VIN is unique, the stolen vehicle becomes a clone of the legitimate one. Add some fake papers and a warm smile, and the thieves are ready to sell you a vehicle that looks perfectly legal and obviously comes from a very friendly, honest-looking person.

Here are five tips to protect yourself from becoming a used car clone victim:

1. INTUITION: Trust your instincts. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you feel suspicious about a vehicle or the seller, walk away. Even if the vehicle was not stolen, reconstructed after flood damage or older than it appears, it’s not worth taking the risk. There are plenty of other used cars available.

2. VEHICLE IDENTIFICATION NUMBER: Check the VIN – Every vehicle sold has a VIN. This number should match the number on the title and registration. The VIN is located on the driver's side above the dashboard, inside the driver door and under the hood. Look for any signs that these numbers could have been tampered with. If the windshield contains slight damages, such as scratch marks around the area, there is a strong possibility that the VIN has been replaced. If so, the car is probably stolen.

3. LOW SALE PRICE: If the car seller is asking a ridiculously low price for the vehicle, inquire why. Smart buyers usually research car prices online before purchasing. To check current car values simply search for a similar vehicle on a popular car classified website. If the vehicles asking price is significantly lower, be suspicious the car could be stolen.

4. MAINTENANCE RECORDS: You should inspect all maintenance records, which are not only a good way to see if the car was stolen, but also will give you a hint of how well the car has been taken care of. Checking the mileage over time on the maintenance records is one good step to ensure that the seller did not tamper with the odometer.

5. REGISTRATION PAPERS: The registration papers will also give you some clues about the vehicle. Make sure the license plate on the car matches the numbers on the registration papers. Make sure the owner’s name matches the sellers – and ask for picture ID. Preferably meet the seller at the address listed on the papers; a thief might have a problem with that.

One of the smartest steps you can take to protect yourself against buying a stolen vehicle is to buy your used car from a reputable dealer. Not only will the chance of buying a problem vehicle be much smaller, resolving any issue will be much simpler if the need arises.

Remember that if it looks like it’s too good to be true and it sounds like it’s too good to be true, and it feels like it’s too good to be true...it is probably a “steal”, just not in the sense you wish. Leave the gambling at the Blackjack table and make sure the used car you are buying is a legitimate vehicle that you can truly own.


This article was prepared by David Leonhardt and Corey Rozon for Monster Auto, a top Canadian used car portal, where you can find used Chevys for sale and also used Honda cars are listed.

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