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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?

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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 car owners.

What's a VIN?
Vehicle identification numbers are based on the requirements of the Federal 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.

How 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
It 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.


-- Posted: July 5, 2005




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