People thinking about buying a used vehicle may want to do their homework.
A scam involving cloned vehicle identification numbers (VIN) is becoming more common in Saskatoon and police said it could already be fooling many drivers.
“It’s plausible to say there’s definitely over 1,000 cloned vehicles in Saskatoon,” said Det. Sgt. Fred Siemens with the Saskatoon Police Service (SPS). “A larger number of those sold to totally unsuspecting drivers – the others driven by those responsible for the cloning or theft of the vehicle itself.”
Think of a vehicle’s VIN as a 17-digit fingerprint. Culprits are taking that number from a car that’s owned legally, then using it on a stolen vehicle of similar make, model, colour and year to hide its true identity.
How it works
The VIN tag from under the windshield is removed as well as the certification sticker from the driver’s side door jam. Those are replaced with an almost identical looking one from that make, model, year of vehicle with a different VIN.
A fake bill of sale with the new VIN is created, and the vehicle is registered with that bill of sale – unsuspecting to the purchaser entirely.
“Majority of vehicles Saskatoon police have been seeing are coming in from larger centres,” Siemens explained. “A small but significant portion of them are re-vinned in Saskatoon.”
“Typically the vehicles done locally are less sophisticated than the ones coming from someplace like Calgary or even Toronto.”
For the average person, the scam is not so easy to find, according to police.
“It can be really difficult to spot a cloned vehicle – we do have some investigative techniques that are considered secret and confidential to obtain the vehicles true identity – some vehicles have obvious signs of tampering,” Siemens said.
According to Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI), there’s been an increase in stolen vehicles over the past few years and this is an issue they do come across on occasion.
“We see vehicles that may have gone through an inspection, especially if they are coming from out of province, where you can see signs of VIN tampering,” said SGI spokesperson Tyler McMurchy.
He adds there are a number of ways to protect themselves and avoid buying a hot car:
- Make the sale conditional upon an inspection – a cloned VIN could be detected through inspection programs;
- Check the VIN on the door to see if it’s been tampered with and make sure it matches the public VIN on the dash;
- Do a cross-Canada VIN search through SGI or Carfax – if a buyer doesn’t find a history on the vehicle, that could be a red flag; and
- Watch out for price – if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
“It really is a buyer beware type of situation,” McMurchy said. ‘We really recommend customers study the history of the vehicle to whatever extent they can.”
Siemens urges any person who believes they are driving a stolen vehicle to call police and explain the situation. It does, however, mean they are in possession of stolen property.
“If they bought it believing it to be legitimate police won’t press charges, because they didn’t have the knowledge it was stolen, to begin with,” Siemens explained.
He adds, in this situation, the biggest hit will be to the wallet.
“They would have to go after the person that sold them the vehicle and it may end up going through a civil court in order for them to be re-compensated.”