This is a scheme by which thieves steal vehicles without taking the car. The cars are often listed for sale on CraigsList.com. The purchaser is asked for payment by cash, and meets the seller at a public location, such as a mall. When the purchaser takes the title to the State to register the vehicle, it is discovered there is a lien on the vehicle.
On the other side of the scheme is the owner who discovers he or she is a victim of this scheme when they try to renew their vehicle registration. The records may indicate the victim no longer owns the vehicle on which they are making payments. Thieves have "stolen" the vehicle by switching the VIN of the victim's vehicle with the VIN of a stolen vehicle. The victim's VIN is used to forge a title transfer and obtain a clean title.
The person buying a car off of craigslist is not aware they are driving a stolen vehicle, and people who have had their VIN stolen are not aware of the compromise until they try to sell their car or renew their registration.
This scheme was highlighted in a WSBTV.com article titled "Driver: Thieves Illegally Duplicated My Car Title" (February 15, 2011). According to the article, the Better Business Bureau and the FBI offer the following advice to those buying cars to avoid being the buyer of a cloned vehicle:
- Get a copy of the car's vehicle history report.
- Always check under the hood to ensure VINs match, and check for signs of tampering such as scratches.
- If you are shopping, beware of a car being sold for substantially less than comparable makes and models.
- Look for incorrect spellings on paperwork, like vehicle titles.
- If you think your car was cloned (for instance, you receive notice of unpaid parking tickets that aren't yours), contact your local police.
- Trust your intuition; if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!