Car buyers beware — Alberta thieves are disguising stolen vehicles as legitimate ones, or "car clones."
Edmonton police Det. Dan Duiker described car cloning as "similar to personal identity theft" in a statement released Tuesday.
Thieves take vehicle identification numbers (VINs) from legally registered cars of similar makes and models, then produce documents or VIN decals to make the car seem legitimate.
“Each VIN is unique like a fingerprint, but if it can be cloned successfully, the result is two or more vehicles with the same VIN," Duiker said.
Thieves are creating counterfeit VINs, like this one, to sell stolen cars. (Photo: Edmonton Police Service)
Edmonton police deal with one to two reports of cloned cars every week. Customers who fall for a clone car scam risk losing the money they paid and the car once it's returned to its rightful owner.
For thieves, it can be a lucrative business — pay $500 to $1,000 for a forged VIN, then sell the car for a $10,000 to $50,000 profit.
"Car cloning is a significant issue on the rise in Canada,” said Dan Service, investigative services director with the Insurance Bureau of Canada, in a release. “Cloning cars is complex work requiring sophisticated skills, equipment, and networks most often linked to organized crime.”
Here are some suggestions from Edmonton police to avoid becoming the victim of a car cloning scam:
- Bring a friend, and view the car during the day in a public location.
- Ask for proof of ownership, and examine paperwork for any inconsistencies.
- Ask lots of questions and don't let the seller rush the sale.
- Examine the VIN on the car to make sure it hasn't been tampered with, and that it matches the car's documents.
- Google the VIN, or check it on the Canadian Police Information Centre website or the Insurance Bureau of Canada's free VIN verification service.
- Obtain a Vehicle Information Report at an Alberta registry.
- Have a mechanic or insurance company inspect the vehicle.
- Ask questions when a car's price is below market value, and pay with a bank draft rather than cash.
- Maintain solid records of the purchase, including a bill of sale.
- Or, skip the private seller and purchase from a dealership.
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According to Sam Dilinger, who has 20 years of experience as an auto technician, the original factory warranty on a new car is often transferable to a second owner. In addition to this option, you can also purchase a certified pre-owned vehicle that generally carries an extended warranty; usually the warranty, continues through 100,000 miles. You can also purchase aftermarket extended warranties from companies like Fidelity.
Used cars tend to be significantly cheaper than new ones. Also, according to Dilinger, since you're paying less, you'll also have an easier time borrowing money from a financial institution, if needed. The other added benefit of spending less is being able to change vehicles more often if you so choose.
If you decide to buy a used car, you have the option of buying almost any car, even ones that are no longer being released or that would normally be beyond your price range. Buying a new car only gives you the option of buying the current model available on the lot; with a slightly older model, you'll undoubtedly get more bang for your buck. Since used cars tend to be cheaper than new cars, many people can often afford a nicer, luxury used car.
The newer and more expensive the car, the higher your insurance rate. So if you buy a model that is a few years old and thousands of dollars cheaper, you’ll be saving yourself a nice heap of cash every month. This is especially true in states with expensive car tags, according to James Pillow, a self proclaimed "motorhead." In these areas, a cheaper used car will save you money when paying for the car tag.
If you keep your used car in good condition, when it comes time to sell, you'll find a higher resale value than if you were trying to sell a car you bought new. According to Pillow, many cars have a big aftermarket demand. For example, Toyota Land Cruisers sometimes increase in value due to their popularity as used cars.