Vehicle Fraud - Buyer Beware


“Vehicle Fraud” Buyer Beware

West Grand Neighborhood Organization
By Esteban Moreno, ATPA VIN Technician

    One of the easiest way for you to become a victim of fraud is when purchasing a vehicle. We all are looking for the best deal for the money and place ourselves out there to become a victim. The web gives us the easiest access to vehicles for sale and the largest variety. We go to sites like Craigslist, Auto-trader, MLive and Car finder. These are just a few locally that give us access to vehicles anywhere in the United States.

    In the past month I have been checking Craigslist regularly for vehicles sold by private owners. Almost daily I have located multiple fraud sales. Most vehicles are newer and are listed at $1,500.00, and the descriptions are the same. They advertise low millage, clean interior, and one owner. There is usually a gmail address and the Craigslist disclaimers are way at the bottom of the post. If you contact the alleged owner they will give a sob story or other reason for selling the vehicle so cheap. They will then say the sale is done through PayPal or wiring money in some other way. These are Red Flags!!

    Vehicle fraud is a sale of a vehicle with intention to misrepresent the items value, ownership or history in order to obtain monies. The price is usually significantly lower than the vehicles true value. The ownership could be falsified by using fake or stolen titles. The vehicle history could also be mislead by changing the title from  salvage, junk or stolen vehicle to a clear title. Some vehicles are listed as complete losses due to water damage from flood or hurricane states.

    Stolen vehicles can also have the identity changed by changing the VIN tag (vehicle identification number), federal certification and parts lists stickers. Some have gone as far as changing the vehicle computer, cutting OnStar or disconnecting the GPS module as well. They are referred to as cloned or re-tagged vehicles. The VIN is copied from an existing similar vehicle and a false identity is created. Note: that like a finger print there is only one VIN number assigned to each vehicle. There will never be legally two vehicles with the same VIN.   

    Insurance fraud is another way of selling vehicles that have been deemed as a total loss by the insurance companies or are actually listed as stolen. A stolen or false title is used to sell the vehicle and the victim is not aware of the status until they attempt to re-register it. The seller usually requests cash for the sale or will use a third party to obtain a cashiers check in their name.

    What do you do to avoid becoming a victim of vehicle fraud? Make sure and get a good identification from the seller. Ask for time to verify the vehicle identity through the Secretary of State. Get the VIN number and title number and ask them to verify the identity. Ask your insurance company to run the VIN number through the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). This is a tool available to law enforcement and insurance companies. Remember if the price is too good to be true it probably is. Have a mechanic do a thorough check of the mechanics as well as checking under carpet, in the trunk and under seats to look for water damage. If you observe welding that appears on the frame it's probably a salvage vehicle. Most frame damaged vehicles are deemed a total loss.   

    When in doubt contact your local police department. Ask for the detective unit and if available an auto theft detective. We here at West Grand Neighborhood Organization are VIN Technicians and can also assist if necessary. Remember that a vehicle is an investment. Make sure your getting your money's worth!  

Funds for this program are provided by the Michigan Auto Theft Prevention Authority.