VIN Switching: The Ultimate Alias
What is a VIN?
Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) are serial numbers for vehicles that are used to
differentiate similar makes and models. Much like social security numbers, every vehicle
has a different VIN. VIN plates are located on the dashboard and can be viewed through the
windshield. Law enforcement agencies use VINs to determine if a vehicle has an active
Types of Scams
VIN Switching is a technique used by thieves to disguise the identity of a stolen vehicle.
They will replace the VIN on a stolen vehicle with a VIN that is not associated with an
active theft record. The vehicle thief will then try to resell the stolen car to an
unsuspecting customer. In addition to manually switching the VIN, some VIN switchers will
also develop fraudulent titles and registrations to go along with the vehicle.
Salvage Switch: A Case of Taken Identity
A vehicle which is extensively damaged, burned or stripped and deemed not worthy of repair
is called "salvaged." Thieves use a phony name and address to buy a salvaged
vehicle solely for its title and Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). They steal a car of
the same make and model and switch the VINs -- removing the rectangular VIN plate from the
salvaged car and placing it in the stolen car, giving the vehicle a "clean"
look. The perpetrators then claim the stolen car is the salvaged one that s been rebuilt,
register the car using the same phony name and address, and resell it to an innocent
Strip and Run:
The Strip and Run is another scam thieves use to disguise a stolen car. Here, a vehicle
thief will steal a car, strip it for its parts, then abandon it. The police eventually
recover the vehicle and cancel the theft record. The thieves purchase the frame at an
insurance or police auto auction and then re-attach the parts they had stolen. The end
result is a road-worthy car that is no longer listed as stolen.
The NICB Fights Back
NICB Online helps close the loopholes that allow VINswitching to flourish. An NICB
Online service, VINassist, allows insurance and law enforcement professionals to decode
VINs to reveal the vehicle s make, model, model year, engine size and restraint system. If
the vehicle's characteristics provided by VINassist do not match the vehicle, there is a
good chance the vehicle has undergone a VIN switch.
Another NICB Online service, NICB EyeQ, also provides investigators with
the vehicle s history. If the vehicle is involved in a salvage switch, NICB EyeQ will have
a salvage record attached to the VIN.
Don't Let A Vehicle Thief Take You For A Ride: Consumer Tips
- Look closely at the VIN plate, located on the driver s side of the dashboard, to see if
it appears tampered.
- Never buy a used car without getting the vehicle s title or pink slip in person; and
double check the vehicle identification number with the number listed on the title, the
registration papers and the federal certification label on the driver s side door.
- Ask to see identification of the person who is selling you the car; write down his/her
name, address, phone number and drivers license number for your records.
- Call the phone number given to you by the vehicle s owner. Often, scam artists will
provide the phone number of a random pay phone.
© 1997 National Insurance Crime Bureau