Tips to avoid becoming a target of criminal tactics when getting a vehicle.
By: Diana Bello Aristizabal
As the years go by and cities continue growing, criminal tactics become more sophisticated, especially those related to car theft. This reality became evident with a unique case tackled in August that involved a recovered automobile with an altered vehicle identification number (VIN).
“It was a vehicle found after hours in the parking lot of Miami International Mall with occupants inside. When we checked if it was registered or not, we discovered that the VIN didn’t match the license plate and later that it had been stolen outside of Doral,” explains Doral’s Chief of Police, Edwin Lopez.
The VIN is a set of numbers integrated by seven digits that stay the same, even when they can be visible on various parts of the car, such as the windshield or the chassis. However, in this case, each vehicle part had a different VIN, which detectives with expertise in auto crimes found suspicious.
“Many times, in instances like these, one VIN found in a vehicle part may register as legal while another one may not. This fact leads us to conclude that it contains stolen parts that were put together like a Lego set,” Chief Lopez explains.
Although in this case, the two occupants found were arrested, and investigators are still trying to determine if there is a criminal organization behind due to how elaborated everything was, it serves as a red flag for used car buyers and sellers.
“Sometimes businesses that sell cars fail to check them properly to verify if they have the same VIN in all their parts or not. Some criminals even scratch this number off so that it cannot be connected to any vehicle,” warns Lopez.
The purpose of this tactic is to confuse authorities, so people are encouraged to become very wary when purchasing a used vehicle. “Usually, the buyer doesn’t check the VIN in every section of the car, but only in one that raise no concern if it turns out to be legal. What the buyer doesn’t know is that some parts of their vehicle may be stolen,” warns the police officer.
To avoid becoming a victim of this or unknowingly driving a stolen car, the number one recommendation is to make sure it’s properly registered before making a transaction by visiting a tag agency.
At these sites, the vehicle’s documentation can be inspected, including its VIN. “But don’t do this alone; go with the seller,” Lopez advises, adding that if the seller doesn’t show up or refuses to go, this constitutes a red flag, and much likely the car is stolen or in poor condition.
On the other hand, it’s important to choose crowded public places when evaluating the condition of the vehicle and/or making a transaction, especially if the buyer has never seen the seller before and the offer was found on sites such as Facebook Marketplace. A good meeting point is the Police Department because it’s a safe zone. “Refrain from visiting people’s houses, especially at night,” says the Chief of Police.
Keep in mind that if you are driving a stolen vehicle, even without knowing this or intending to do so, you will be the subject of a criminal investigation until it’s proven that you are not responsible for it. “All of that can be avoided by following these simple precautions.”
- Always lock your vehicle since most auto crimes happen for careless behavior.
- Never leave a spare key or garage door opener inside the vehicle.
- Always check your surroundings before leaving your car unattended. Social media and phone calls can wait.
- If you have a car on a lease, return it when the term is up. Many cars are reported stolen when this happens.
- Call the police if you see any suspicious behavior.
- If your car is stolen, contact 911 or the Police Department to report it as stolen so that it goes into a database that can be accessed by any police officer in any city in case your vehicle is pulled over.