Last month, after dumping insane amounts of money into my old car to keep it running, I took the leap and bought a “new to me” car. That’s right, I am now one of the millions of people with a car payment. However, in return for that monthly agony, I now have this great new(er) car that I’m pretty sure will start every time I put the key in the ignition and turn. What I’m no longer sure about is that my car will be the only one on the road with its own unique vehicle identification number (VIN).
About two weeks after my large and exciting purchase, I came across some disturbing information about a somewhat new practice in automobile theft called car cloning. What exactly is car cloning and how does it happen? Well, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, it works like this: A thief steals your car from a shopping mall. After leaving the mall, the thief heads for a neighboring state to seek out a large car dealership and look for a car that's the exact same make and model (and even the same color) of the stolen one. Then, the thief jots down the VIN, which is stamped on the top of the dashboard, and drives off. Later, the thief makes an exact replica of the VIN tag, pulls the old tag out of the stolen car, and puts it in the new one. Presto! You now have two cars with identical VIN numbers. Now that the stolen car has the “legitimate” VIN number of a car that hasn’t been stolen, it’s virtually impossible to trace the theft.
So now, here I am with my “new” car, and it is completely possible that someone could lift my vehicle identification number and register a stolen car using my VIN. Or worse yet, I’m the one driving the stolen car with the stolen VIN and I don’t even know it! In the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, a person can hop from state to state rather easily, making it even easier for a thief to commit the car cloning crime described above.
However, help is on the way. The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) has an easy solution to completely prevent this crime in the form of the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS). According to the BJA website, “The NMVTIS is a system that allows an electronic means to verify and exchange titling, brand, and theft data among motor vehicle administrators, law enforcement officials, prospective purchasers, and insurance carriers.” In other words, it allows the states to easily communicate with one another so that there is a national network in place to make sure that the American public is not being ripped off. Currently there are only 30 states participating in the NMVTIS, which hampers the effective control of car cloning crimes. Until all states are participants and the information sharing is occurring across all states, I will just have to hope that my car is actually mine.