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How to tell if you’re buying a stolen car Advertiser Disclosure Advertiser Disclosure We are an independent, advertising-supported comparison service. Our goal is to help you make smarter financial decisions by providing you with interactive financial calculators and tools, publishing original and objective content. This allows users to conduct research and compare information for free – so that you can make financial decisions with confidence. Bankrate has partnerships with issuers including, but not restricted to, American Express, Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Citi and Discover. How We Earn Profit The deals that are advertised on this site are from companies who pay us. This compensation could affect how and when products are featured on this website, for example for instance, the order in which they may appear in the listing categories and other categories, unless prohibited by law. Our mortgage home equity, mortgage and other home lending products. This compensation, however, does affect the content we publish or the reviews that you see on this site. We do not contain the universe of companies or financial offerings that could be open to you.


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4 min read Published 11 October 2022

Writer: Kellye Guinan Written by Personal and business finance contributor

Kellye Guinan is a freelance editor and writer with over 5 years experience working in the field of personal finances. She is also a full-time employee at the library in her town where she helps her community gain access to information on financial literacy, among other subjects.

Edited by Helen Wilbers Edited by

Helen Wilbers has been editing for Bankrate since the end of 2022. He values the clarity of his reporting, which helps readers easily land deals and make the most appropriate choices regarding their finances. He is a specialist in auto and small business loans.

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With the cost of new cars hitting the record-setting levels, you may be thinking about purchasing a used car. Be cautious that car theft is spiking and you shouldn’t to purchase a vehicle that has been stolen. In 2021, 932,329 cars were reported stolen, up 10.9 percent from the year before According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). There’s also the possibility that the car you’re trying to purchase is a replica of the vehicle. Car cloning is the process where a car burglar steals the license plate and registration labels from a legitimate vehicle and puts them on a stolen vehicle of a similar make and model. The thief also might utilize fake documents to offer you a hot car. Proceed with caution when buying from a private seller or a dealer. And if something feels odd, consider a different source. There are a lot of used automobiles available. 6 steps to find out whether the car you’re considering buying is stolen. To avoid the headache of purchasing a fake car, make sure you follow these six steps. 1. Verify the VIN thoroughly. You can verify the VIN with the government agencies as well as your state’s department of motor vehicle. You can also look up the car’s VIN by using the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s VIN Check service, suggests Renee Valdes, senior advice editor at Kelley Blue Book. This free service can inform you if there are any insurance documents for a stolen vehicle, which includes one which isn’t yet recovered. “Some vehicles have the VIN inside the front driver door or on the windshield, and some owners can have the VIN printed on the windows or inside the engine,” Valdes says. Valdes. “Carmakers want to make it harder for criminals to steal VINs and create counterfeit ones.” The VIN can also be stamped into the vehicle’s dashboard. Be thorough, especially with letters and numbers that look similar. Since the VIN must be located in multiple locations, look at each one to make sure they match. If they don’t then they could have been tampered with. 2. Buy a car history report Request a report on the history of your vehicle with the VIN, suggests Valdes. The companies that offer car history reports include . “These reports aren’t too expensive and are well worth the investment,” says Valdes. The reports on vehicle history include details such as Service history, title information Liens in the car’s accident history and damage Previous owners while the report will list the prior owners of the vehicle, it doesn’t include the names of the owners. “If the history is complete to date and it’s in good condition, then it’s been well-maintained and not stolen,” says Valdes. However, if there are any gaps in the history, or the car isn’t up to the current date, it could indicate that the car is stolen. 3. Do a title search You can search for a car’s title using the . If the person who is trying to sell you the car doesn’t match the name in the document, then you’ll know it’s a stolen car. The title of the vehicle can help determine any differences between what the seller is saying against what’s written on the title, for instance if the car is an and the mileage was when it was last sold. 4. Ask the seller for the car’s service history If the seller can show you maintenance receipts, there is a better likelihood that it’s not a stolen car, explains Valdes. Check to see whether the VIN, make and model on the receipts match the car. Review the maintenance logs with the car’s history report and check if they are in line. “A vehicle is usually a consumer’s second largest purchase,” says Valdes. “I always thought of my car as if I’d eventually sell it and that means taking good care of your vehicle and getting regular oil changes.” In addition, inquire whether you can see the previous bill of sale from the time that the seller purchased the vehicle. It’s not too late to inquire about the contact details of the seller and what they originally purchased the car for. A legitimate seller shouldn’t hesitate to supply you with the information you need. 5. Contact your insurance provider to conduct an inspection. Check with your insurance provider if they’re willing to check the vehicle for safety and for any indications of fraudulent activity. It is still recommended to conduct your own due diligence however, your insurance provider may be able to provide additional evidence to prove that the vehicle is above the legal limit. In addition, some states and insurance companies could need to inspect your vehicle when you . This typically happens before the insurance company has approved the auto insurance policy. And usually, it is only needed if you’re buying certain kinds of insurance like . 6. Trust your gut If the price seems too good to be authentic, or the dealer is too eager to sell the car and wants you to skip the deal, go with your gut. There are many sellers, or used auto dealerships there are many legitimate options out there. You might notice a difference between what the seller tells you about the vehicle and what you learn during your research. That’s not necessarily a sign of a problem. Some car owners don’t keep detailed records. If the car has been purchased and sold multiple times, it could have certain information that is not there. If you notice any discrepancies without a reason then walk away. What should you do if the car you’re buying is stolen If you find out if the car you’re buying is stolen, file a police report. Provide your bill of sale along with any other pertinent documents and other information. Unfortunately, if the car you bought was stolen, or is an “cloned vehicle,” it was never actually yours. This means you are not the legitimate owner of the car and it will be confiscated and returned to the owner who is rightfully entitled. If a claim for theft was already made to the insurance company, then the car will be returned to the insurance company. Any will be a loss. If you haven’t purchased the vehicle yet, simply walk away and don’t look back, suggests Valdes. When you’re sure to do this, file a police report. The most important thing to remember is that thieves become more sophisticated Be aware of possible dangers and research the car thoroughly, suggests Valdes. This means doing a Google search on the VIN or requesting a car history report and asking for additional documents and information to determine whether the vehicle has been stolen. “Don’t back down from taking every precaution in the booming used car industry,” says Valdes.


Written by a Personal and Business finance Contributor

Kellye Guinan is a freelance editor and writer who has more than five years ‘ experience within personal finances. She’s also a full-time employee at the library in her town where she helps her community get information about financial literacy, in addition to other topics.

Editor: Helen Wilbers Edited by

Helen Wilbers has been editing for Bankrate since late 2022. He believes in clear reporting that helps readers successfully find deals and make the best decisions for their financials. He specializes in small business and auto loans.

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