STOCKTON (CBS13) — How would you know if your car was stolen?
If you bought it used, you probably don’t, a Call Kurtis investigation is revealing after exposing an elaborate scheme being used to sell stolen cars — often without buyers ever finding out.
For years crafty crooks have used deception to sell cars; now they’re upping the ante, switching out and even sometimes manufacturing vehicle identification plates and stickers unique to each car.
The concept is simple: If the VIN of a stolen car is changed, no one will know it’s the same car.
Nikisha Glasper of Stockton learned of the trend the hard way.
Four years after buying her red 2001 Chevy Tahoe from a private seller, DMV investigators broke the news: Her car was stolen property and would be confiscated.
“I thought I was being punked,” said the mother of five. “I was waiting for Ashton Kutcher to come out. Are you kidding me?”
Glasper is now forced to bum rides to work every morning.
“I’m just feeling helpless right now,” she said.
“It’s forgery,” said Frank Scafidi of the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Scafidi said he’s seen the criminals get more and more technologically advanced.
“It’s still an easy way for someone to get rid of a car,” he said.
California is a hotbed for stolen cars, with seven of the top 10 car theft cities in the United States.
Only 55 percent of those stolen cars are recovered each year.
“You’re looking at 300,000 or so cars that go unaccounted for,” Scafidi said.
Some go undetected and end up in shipping containers headed overseas.
In April, U.S. Customs and Border Protection stopped a Hong Kong-bound shipment of 20 luxury cars in long beach.
But the remaining stolen cars, Scafidi said, could be hidden in plain sight.
“It’s a really serious problem,” said consumer advocate Rosemary Shahan.
The crooks are so good, you’d never know your VIN had been replaced, she said — but a good mechanic with working knowledge of your model should be able to detect it.
“They would look for that, that’s one of the first things they’d look for,” she said.
The DMV wouldn’t tell us how they discovered Glasper’s Tahoe was stolen.
Glasper told CBS13 she never had a mechanic inspect the vehicle before buying it — a mistake that, in this case, has left her without any car at all.
“I’m just gonna have to keep having to get rides until I save up enough money,” she said.
Resources for finding you car’s history
– CARFAX Vehicle History Reports ($34.99-39.99 single report)
– National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (From $4.99)
– AutoCheck by Experian ($29.99 single report)
– VinCheck by National Insurance Crime Bureau (Five free searches per day)