| Thursday April 17th 2014

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Attack of the Clones


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It’s all the latest rage – vehicle cloning. And rage is just what you’ll feel if you are the victim. Here is how it works. Thieves steal a car, usually a high-end “desirable” car or SUV. Then they take the vehicle identification number or VIN from a similar vehicle and slap it on the stolen car. Because each VIN is unique like a fingerprint, the stolen vehicle become a clone of a legitimate vehicle. Add some fake papers, and the thieves are ready to sell you a vehicle that looks perfectly legal.

When the police come knocking on your door, you have no legal recourse – you have to hand over the stolen property. Statistics show that this horror story is happening to more and more people ever year. In 2007 there were over 1.3 million cars stolen cars in the US, with over 250,000 or 1 in 5 of these stolen vehicles sold to unsuspecting victims. In the UK, this is being called that fastest growing car crime. And Canadians are being hit just as hard.

But you can avoid being a car clone victim. Here are nine tips to protect you from ending up the proud owner of a stolen car.

1. LOW SALE PRICE: If the car seller is asking a ridiculously low price for the vehicle, inquire why. Smart buyers usually research car prices online before purchasing. To check current car values simply search for a similar vehicle on a popular car classified website. If the vehicles asking price is significantly lower, be suspicious the car could be stolen. The thief may be asking the lowest possible price to rid them of the vehicle quickly.

2. PHONE NUMBER: Always ask for the seller’s landline before your first meeting. While cell phones are convenient and increasingly common, it will be next to impossible to trace if the need arises. If the seller refuses or states that they only have a cell phone approach with caution. Be extra vigilant in your dealings with this person since it will be very difficult to find them if they suddenly disappear.

3. REGISTRATION ADDRESS: Ask to view the vehicle in the daytime at the address listed in the registration papers. If the seller refuses and instead asks to meet in a public place, make sure there is a valid reason. Even if the seller gives a good reason there is a higher probability that the vehicle is stolen. If you still feel the seller is legitimate and the vehicle is not stolen be aware that he/she could be hiding something serious about the car.

4. INSPECTION: Why view the car in the daytime? So that you can inspect the whole car very carefully. Look for any signs that people tampered with locks. Replacement locks (replacing those broken when the thieves stole the car) are a giveaway. Check hidden places in the vehicle to see if the paint color has been changed, which might also disguise a stolen car.

5. REGISTRATION PAPERS: The registration papers will give you some clues about the vehicle. Make sure the license plate on the car matches the number on the registration papers. Make sure the owner’s name matches the sellers – and ask for picture ID. And make sure the VIN on the registration papers and in the windshield match.

6. MAINTENANCE RECORDS: Other papers you should inspect very carefully are the maintenance records, which are not only a good way to see if the car was stolen (thieves never have the maintenance records), but also will give you a hint of how well the car has been taken care of. Plus a check for mileage over time on the maintenance records is one good step to ensure that the seller did not tamper with the odometer and is not trying to sell you an older car for a newer car’s price.

7. VEHICLE IDENTIFICATION NUMBER: Check the VIN – Every vehicle sold has a VIN. This number should match the number on the title and registration. The VIN is located on the driver’s side above the dashboard, inside the driver door and under the hood. Look for any signs that these numbers could have been tampered with. If the windshield contains slight damages, such as scratch marks around the area, there is a strong possibility that the VIN has been replaced. If so, the car is probably stolen.

8. INSURANCE: Sorry, but more paperwork can help. Ask to see the insurance papers, and again check that everything matches. If the vehicle is uninsured, it might be stolen or have other problems. If the seller can’t provide insurance papers, this is probably not a car to buy. If they do provide the papers, call the insurance agent to verify. The agent will be only too happy to speak with a potential client like yourself.

9. INTUITION: Of course, trust your instincts. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is…especially if the selling price is oddly low. If you feel suspicious about a vehicle or the seller, walk away. Even if the vehicle was not stolen, reconstructed after flood damage or older than it appears, it’s not worth taking the risk. There are plenty of other cars available.

It’s been shown that one in three used cars has something to hide. That could be outstanding credit, its mileage turned back, been in a serious accident, flood damaged, or in fact been stolen. Keep in mind that most private sellers are not thieves, but rather honest, regular folks like you. If you really want to sleep well at night – and what’s the point of getting “that great deal”, only to lie awake worrying about it? One way to stack the odds in your favor is to buy only from a reputable dealer with a strong community reputation. Not only will the chance of buying a problem vehicle be much smaller, resolving any issue will be much simpler if the need arises.

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