Auto theft investigators are alerting the public to a scam involving cloned vehicle identification numbers and are advising consumers to do their homework before they make the purchase.

The Calgary Police Service Auto Theft Unit has recovered over 45 vehicles this year that have been cloned or re-vinned.

“This is a trend that we’re seeing dramatic spikes in the last three or four years,” said CPS S/Sgt. Rob Rutledge. “Many, many years ago, this was a trend that originated out of eastern Canada and vehicles were being re-vinned or cloned out there, sent out to Alberta, sold to unsuspecting consumers, but now we’re seeing our own Alberta criminals doing the same thing.”

Police say the cloning process typically works as follows and usually involves a private sale:

  • A motor vehicle is stolen or obtained by fraud
  • The culprits search for a vehicle similar in colour, year, make and model in another province or country
  • The VIN from the other jurisdiction is incorporated into a new VIN plate and federal standards decal, which are then placed on the vehicle that was stolen or obtained by fraud
  • The culprits then go to an inspection facility for an out-of-province inspection form
  • A forged bill of sale and the out of province inspection form are then given to a Registry Office and the vehicle is registered
  • The vehicle now has a new identity and is offered for sale to an unsuspecting buyer

Police say the vehicles they are recovering are high-end cars, trucks and SUVs in the $50,000 to $60,000 range.

 “This is definitely organized crime, there’s a huge profit to be made, particularly if you’re obtaining the vehicles by fraud or theft and selling to unsuspecting consumers, they’re making thousands and thousands of dollars. We’ve seized vehicles off of a lot of motorcycle gang members and other organized crime groups in Calgary,” said S/Sgt. Rutledge.

Police say the consumer is out the money when they go to the door and seize the vehicle.

“They’re out that money because the vehicle was originally stolen from someone else or from the victim’s insurance company,” said Rutledge.

Police say consumers can take a few steps to reduce the risks when buying a used vehicle:

  • Ask for and make a note of government issued identification from the seller
  • Do a Carproof or Carfax check on the vehicle
  • Ask more questions if the vehicle shows as being registered in another province or country or if it is showing salvage or junk title
  • Look at the public VIN (lower left dashboard) and compare how the VIN looks to another similar vehicle i.e. Ford to Ford
  • Compare the public VIN to the federal certification label on the driver’s door frame. The VIN should be the same and the decal should not show any signs of peeling
  • Take the vehicle to a car dealership and have them conduct checks. i.e. Take Ford products to Ford dealerships etc.

Consumers can also check VIN numbers on the Canadian Police Information Centre website to see if the vehicle is listed as stolen.

Police say that they investigated about ten incidents three years ago and they are currently looking for several more vehicles in addition to the 45 they have already identified this year.