VIN cloning becomes new car theft trend

Lauren Buchanan

The New Car Theft Trend: VIN Cloning from on Vimeo.

Typically, car thieves will steal a car and get quick cash from gutting the parts, but there is now a way they can make a few more thousand dollars and avoid getting caught. And? It’s at the victim’s expense.

“First of all, I was shocked to find that someone could do something like that,” says Mike Cella of Massachusetts. Cella is one of several victims to a virtually silent crime: Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) Cloning.

Cella attempted to trade in his 2008 GMC Yukon Denali for a new one in October, but the dealer brought back the Carfax report. To Cella’s surprise, his car had been in four accidents from states more than 1,000 miles away from him. This meant that he couldn’t get full trade-in value toward his next vehicle purchase.


Something was strange, though.


After further investigation, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) found that the same make and model Yukon had been stolen in Florida seven years ago. The thieves cloned Cella’s VIN number and sold it for the full Blue Book price in the Midwest. After the stolen vehicle was sold the first time, the thieves became untraceable…and rich.


I personally stepped into the shoes of a car thief to show you exactly how VIN cloning is done, but don’t worry, I used my own 2013 Dodge Avenger.


First, your car is stolen. Kent City Police Lieutenant Jim Prusha says that the department gets calls reporting people attempting to open doors in parking lots. It is no brainer that criminals will take the unlocked cars. If you fail to lock your car, you become an easy target.


Second, the thief will search for the exact same make and model on sites like Thieves will snag the VIN number, even if that means going to a dealership to get it. To make an exact copy, this sneaky criminal needs to be Photoshop savvy.


Finally, the fake VINs get put on your car.


The car will be sold for a really great deal. They will run with the money.


Days later, you’ll get pulled over for being in possession of a stolen vehicle. The police will take it away so now, you’re out of a car and thousands of dollars.


So what exactly happened with Cella’s stolen VIN number?


The NICB found it in the hands of a woman from Wisconsin. She was the fourth owner of the Yukon and she bought it from a dealership. According to Wisconsin laws, the dealership had to reimburse her. Mike Cella says that Massachusett’s law wouldn’t have faired well for him. The crime would’ve been at his expense.


Kent City Police were unaware of VIN cloning until I spoke with them earlier this week. Both Prusha and Cella applaud the criminals.


“Kind of an innovative idea for criminals,” Lieutenant Prusha said with a smirk.


Cella said in a disheartening tone, “You know, great scheme, great idea, great thought. God bless ‘em, I said. But you know what? You’re still hurting people’s livelihoods. You’re hurting people’s reputations. Someone’s going to have to pay for it in the end and it could’ve been me.”

There are a few ways to avoid purchasing a cloned vehicle:

  • Make sure all your car’s VINs match! You can find them on your windshield, inside of your car’s hood, and inside the driver’s door.
  • Conduct a title search
  • Look up your VIN at
  • Most importantly, trust your instincts! If a deal sounds skeptical or too good to be true, walk away.

Contact Lauren Buchanan at [email protected]