The following is from NICB.org (National Insurance Crime Bureau)
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 theft record.
Types of Scams
VIN Switch: A technique used by thieves to disguise the identity of a stolen vehicle. They will alter the identity of the stolen vehicle by replacing the VIN tag. 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 registration to go along with the vehicle.
Strip and Run
A vehicle thief steals a car, strips it for its parts, and abandons the vehicle. 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.
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 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 purchaser.
The NICB Fights Back
NICB’s VINassist allows 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. Law enforcement may obtain a copy of VINassist by calling 708-237- 4400 or 1-800-447-6282 extension 4400.
· Look closely at the VIN plate located on the driver’s side of the dashboard to see if it appears to be tampered with.
· Never buy a used car without getting the vehicle’s title or pink slip in person, and double check the VIN with the number listed on the title, 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 their name, address, phone number and drivers’ license number for your records. · Call the phone number given to you by the vehicle’s owner. Many times, scam artists will provide the phone number of a random pay phone.