I’ve been shopping around for vehicles, and I’ve decided that I want to purchase a car from a private seller. I’ve already found one that I like, but I’m worried about going through with the purchase. A friend of mine told me stories of how people buy cars from private sellers and they turn out to be stolen vehicles.

How can I tell if the vehicle has been stolen?

When you buy a car from a private seller, you have to do a little more homework than when buying a vehicle from a dealership. One of the most important things you can do is check to make sure that the vehicle is actually owned by the seller.

More than 700,000 vehicles are stolen every year, according to the FBI. Some vehicles are more likely to be stolen than others. Honda Civic and Honda Accord are the top two most stolen vehicles. 

The first thing that you’ll need to do is locate the vehicle identification number (VIN). The VIN is a unique number assigned to a vehicle. No two vehicles can have the same VIN, and numbers are never reassigned to a new vehicle. 

The VIN can be found on a plaque in the corner of the vehicle’s dashboard, on insurance policy documents, and on the title paperwork or registration. 

It’s important to check that the VIN matches at each location. Is the VIN unreadable at the dashboard or door? Does the VIN match the one in the title? 

Once you have the VIN, you can run the number through an online search, like the one at carvertical.com/vin-number-check. carVertical will check the database of stolen vehicles, and will also provide you with a wealth of information about the vehicle, including: mileage, check previous countries of registration, unreported damage, archived photos and more.

You may also be able to find out if the vehicle is stolen by calling the DMV where the car is registered, or you can run a VIN check on the National Insurance Crime Bureau website.

It’s also a good idea to get a Carfax Vehicle History Report from the seller, or order one from the website. If the seller isn’t willing to give you a copy of the report, you should view that as a red flag. Once you have the report, look for a clone alert, mileage that doesn’t match the odometer reading, and registrations in different states. These are all signs of potential fraud and may be an indication that the vehicle is stolen.

With cloned vehicles, thieves take a VIN, license plate and stickers from a legal car, and place them on a stolen vehicle of a similar make and model. 

It’s important to remember that you are the only one who can protect yourself against fraud when buying a vehicle. Your car insurance policy will not offer any protection, and the vehicle can be confiscated if it turns out to be stolen. In this case, you’d lose your entire investment.

Verify the VIN, get the vehicle inspected, and make sure that you check the vehicle’s history with Carfax. Most importantly, trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. 

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