Is your car a clone?
You've always known your car has an identity. What
you didn't know is that it can be stolen. No, your car doesn't have a Social Security
number but, if it was manufactured after 1981, it has a VIN -- a 17-character
vehicle identification number. Do you know your vehicle's VIN or even where it
can be found?
You should. In recent months, the
term "auto theft" has sprouted a new variation, known
as "VIN theft," "VIN cloning" or "auto
identity theft." Whichever you prefer, it's a costly and complicated
problem for some car dealers and car buyers.
Of the 1.5 million vehicles stolen last year, 225,000
were used in VIN-theft activity, says Dan Kahn, road test editor
for Edmunds.com and Insideline.com.
In this new genre of the crime, your automobile stays
with you but the VIN is duplicated on another vehicle -- usually
one that is stolen or used in a different state.
Dave Badger, executive director of stolencarreports.com,
says the VIN could also be used on vehicles that have been totaled
or ones that are exported.
A person in possession of your vehicle's VIN can have
duplicates made of your keys, register multiple vehicles with the
same identification number, and create a world of trouble for legitimate
What's a VIN?
Vehicle identification numbers are based on the requirements of
Motor Vehicle Theft Prevention Standard. All VINs since 1981
have carried 17 characters, and should be evident on as many as
12 or 14 different parts of a vehicle. The most-conspicuous spots
are on the dashboard and the driver-side door panel.
"VIN theft is more about paperwork than it is
about the number itself," says Kahn. The VIN is put on "forged
replicas" of documents required by state motor vehicle departments,
or DMVs, in order to register a vehicle similar in make and model
to your legitimate automobile.
you find out
You will have no way of knowing your VIN was stolen until you register
your new vehicle in a state where a clone also exists; or your insurer
discovers the VIN duplication; or the police make the discovery
and inform you that your car has a clone. At that juncture, you
may be considered a suspect unless you have indisputable evidence
that your car is the original.
The aftermath will differ for victims, depending on
how the vehicles are used, says James Spiller, executive director
of SRS Consulting Group. His example: If a vehicle is used as collateral,
and later reported stolen, all vehicles bearing that VIN will be
impounded by police. The owners -- of clones and originals -- will,
at the very least, be without the use of their respective cars for
an extended period. He says proving that your vehicle is an original
can require going back to the manufacturer for records on the date
and place of original shipment. If you're in Minnesota and Ford's
records say your Taurus was shipped to a dealer in Minnesota, you're
in a better position than the guy in California claiming the same
VIN number for his car.
Secure your papers
is very important for vehicle owners to keep the title and payment receipts in
a secure place. You will need this paperwork if you become a victim of VIN theft.