Buying a Stolen Car?

Would you buy a used car--with cash--from someone you just met in the bar, and who walked you down a dark alley to show you the car? Not likely. How about from a well-dressed, friendly, middle-aged man or woman, who placed a classified ad in your local newspaper, and who meets you midday at a restaurant of your choice?

Oops! You may be more likely to be cheated by seller number two. That's the story of Jennifer Warwa, who bought a minivan and had her mechanic examine it. The mechanic later said how shocked he was that Jennifer had been scammed:

"Because I met the gentleman who was selling the vehicle. Very clean cut. In his fifties. Very soft spoken.... And he went with her to get it inspected. There was just no sign that was the kind of person he was"" the mechanic told CBC's Marketplace.

A few months later, Jennifer got a phone call from the police. They said she had purchased a stolen minivan, and they were coming to seize it. She was so upset, she tried to hide the van from the police. Eventually they caught up with her and she ended up paying for a year and a half for a $5,000 bank loan on a van she could not drive. Ouch!

Jennifer was just one victim in the chain that included the original owner, the insurance company, other consumers whose insurance rates keep rising, and the police, who spend thousands of hours tracking thefts. According to the FBI, a vehicle is stolen about every 25 seconds in the USA, amounting to an $8 billion yearly problem.

Here's how these scams often work. Thieves target particular cars: for their value, their ease of resale as a whole or in parts, or because they are easier to steal. Years ago, most cars were stripped for parts, including unusual parts such as airbags. But today some thieves are so brash they sell cars through newspapers.

This newer scam is called "VIN cloning"

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