Could You Own a Stolen Car and Not Even Know It?

Car Robber with Flashlight Looking Inside the Car. Car Security Theme.

Let’s say you purchase a vehicle from a car auction, take care of the registration fees, and continue to operate that vehicle for years. Then one day, you get a call from the DMV to bring the car in for an inspection. It’s here you find out that the VIN is fake, and the car is actually stolen. ABC 10 San Diego featured a story of a man in this situation, and it’s more common than you may think.


Savvy thieves will use VIN numbers from legitimate cars and put them on stolen ones to get them clearance for transport and sale. Government supported agencies, like NMVTIS, work to track and stop the sale of stolen vehicles but, it could take some time catch up to the paperwork. In the case of the aforementioned ABC10 story, it took five years. Not only did this victim buy his vehicles at a government auction, he renewed the car’s registration for years and previously passed the required inspections.


Luckily, there are ways to ensure this doesn’t happen. If you can, try to buy a car from a reputable dealership. It will not knowingly sell a stolen car and will try to correct the situation as quickly as possible if it somehow does happen. If you buy from a private seller or a smaller dealership and notice that the car is priced well below the KBB, it may require a little more investigation beyond assuring it is sound to drive. You can pull a vehicle history report and be on the lookout for anomalies that can’t be accounted for. You can find out how to obtain a vehicle history report or motor vehicle record in your state by visiting If you are buying a car from a private party, getting a signed Bill of Sale is recommended and, in some states, required in order to transfer the title. The Bill of Sale is basically a receipt for the “transaction” or purchase. If you can go a step further, take a picture of the seller in case he needs to be identified in the future.

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