Joe Torres was shocked by the DMV when he was told to hand over the keys to a vehicle he legitimately bought at a government auction more than five years ago.
The reason?? Criminals faked the vehicle identification number and it was actually stolen property!
VIN forgery is a hidden threat
Torres bought the 2007 Jeep Commander for $8,000 at Robertson’s Auto Auction in April 2010. The car was titled to U.S. Customs and Border Protection after it had been seized at the San Ysidro border in California.
But the jeep was reported stolen in January 2009. It turns out criminals put a fake vehicle identification number (VIN) on the salvaged SUV and then passed it off for sale. The forgery on the title and registration documents was so good that it even fooled the federal government.
KGTV in San Diego reports Torres would receive a full refund, though the check had yet to arrive in his hands at press time.
Fake VINs are an hidden danger that can trip up an unsuspecting car buyer. The modus operandi of crooks is to look for VINs from expensive cars that have been totaled in accidents. Then they put those numbers on stolen vehicles and pass them off for legitimate sale.
What can you do to protect yourself?
The database maintained by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) lets you check out a VIN to see if it’s from a vehicle that’s been reported stolen or that’s a salvage vehicle. This should be a first line of defense to protect yourself against VIN forgery crimes.
But additional precautions are needed as well. Here are some tips from Sgt. Marty Bolger of the Regional Auto Theft Task Force in San Diego County.
1) If the price is too good to be true, then it probably is! Check the Kelley Blue Book value. If it’s priced radically below that value, your safest best is to find another vehicle to buy.
2) Check the vehicle history report for any irregularities. Out-of-state cars can be real red flags.
3) When buying from an individual, request that the sale be done in the parking lot of a police precinct. This tactic will scare away any criminals.
4) Document the transaction by getting receipts and taking pictures of the person selling the vehicle and the license plate of the car they’re driving. If the seller is hesitant, you should be suspicious.
Read more: Top 10 cities for vehicle theft