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  1. #1

    Default Police Claim Car I Bought A Year Ago Was Previously Stolen

    Thanks in advance to anyone who could help. My wife and I bought a Sienna, 2001 in April, 2006 in Brooklyn, NY, via an ad in Craigslist, from a private owner. The minivan had Illinois plates (the owner said he lived partly in Chicago and in Brooklyn). Before buying, I ran a Carfax report on it and found that the guy had owned the van just for about to weeks, and the reported mileage at the time he purchased it was claimed to be exactly 40,000, while at the inspection a year before it was over 61K. In fact, the actual odometer reading at the time I saw the van was about 30K. Other than that, no other problems were reported. The van's condition was far from perfect, but it was running well, and upon my mechanic's repair estimate, I went on with the purchase, since the price was more than reasonable.
    Three days ago, two police detectives called us home and asked to come outside where our minivan was parked. Upon brief inspection of the VIN on the dashboard and the driver's door (which were identical), they went under the hood, apparently inspecting the engine serial number, and concluded that the vehicle we own is not the one we think it is, that it was previously stolen, and we must return it to the rightful owner (the insurance company) ASAP. They agreed to give us a few more days since we already had some important arrangements, but tomorrow I have to meet one of them to give up our van to the police. They said we could sue the previous owner for the money we spent for purchase and repair but so far he's nowhere to be found, his phone# not in service, and the detectives did not appear eager to help me find him. I still hope to find the guy but I'm not thrilled at all about having to lose our only car at the time we need it most. By the way, the cops are real - I called the police bout them and the police said they actually talked to them about us. Another interesting detail: I contacted Carfax about the van, and they said that salvage title (!) was issued to the vehicle in December, 2006 by the state of PA (never been there since the time of purchase).
    Sorry for the long story, but is there anything I can do except for trying to find and sue the seller, and is it inevitable that I'm losing the vehicle.
    Another, more general issue is that unsuspecting buyers are totally unprotected against things like that because not only they have no way of knowing if a used car has legitimate parts, like engine or transmission, but they are NOT EVEN TOLD to look for issues like that. You fill out bill of sale, pay taxes and all kinds of fees, get official plates, get an inspection done, buy an insurance, all of it making your purchase completely legitimate, not like you bought a bike from some crook on the street for $20. A simple two-minute S/N verification at the time of purchase would've solved the problem and helped catch the thieves. Or there is something I don't get here?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Michigan
    Posts
    28,650

    Default Re: Police Claim Car I Bought A Year Ago Was Previously Stolen

    Your final paragraph suggests that you believe the car was repaired with stolen parts. The earlier comments suggest that somebody switched the VIN in the window and door, to make a stolen car look appear to be a different vehicle. Do you know which occurred?

    How did the police track down the vehicle?

  3. #3

    Default Re: Police Claim Car I Bought A Year Ago Was Previously Stolen

    Thanks again for your attention. The police refused to provide me with the details. The VINs on the door and the dashboard are the same as in the title. When my mechanic repaired the car, no major parts were replaced. The police suggested that I bought an already stolen vehicle, and that while they realize I'm a victim myself, they still have to confiscate it since it it the property of an insurance company, not mine.
    I have a legal assistance plan, called a couple of local lawyers recommended by their customer service. One of them heard about a case like this first time and only recommended to call Brooklyn DA office, from where I was later passed around with no success. The other lawyer suggested I should contact Carfax about the seller. Carfax said it cannot release his info to me in accordance with Driver Privacy Protection Act.
    Both lawyers agree that I should comply with the police orders and that unknowingly possessing stolen property still makes me responsible.
    As of now, I don't know which category of law my case falls into: consumer, criminal or something else.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Police Claim Car I Bought A Year Ago Was Previously Stolen

    Quote Quoting aaron
    View Post
    Your final paragraph suggests that you believe the car was repaired with stolen parts. The earlier comments suggest that somebody switched the VIN in the window and door, to make a stolen car look appear to be a different vehicle. Do you know which occurred?

    How did the police track down the vehicle?
    I think you are right. On a 2001 Sienna the VIN is stamped on the vehicle in a total of 17 locations. All they did is refer to the code book to reconstruct the vehicle's true vehicle identification number. It's not uncommon to replace the door and dash vin to deceive a buyer as most people wouldn't know where else to look.

    A dead giveaway on a dash VIN is the fasteners used to attach the "new" VIN to the dash. Very hard to duplicate.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Police Claim Car I Bought A Year Ago Was Previously Stolen

    Thanks, it makes things a bit clearer. Would it be possible for you to specify at least some of those locations so I could go and take a look?

  6. #6

    Default Re: Police Claim Car I Bought A Year Ago Was Previously Stolen

    I would never post information like that on a public fourm. The VIN numbers are stamped in locations that would not be normally be replaced by a mechanic, such as the main frame of the vehicle. On some models the VIN appears on the inside roof of the car, under the headliner.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Michigan
    Posts
    28,650

    Default Re: Police Claim Car I Bought A Year Ago Was Previously Stolen

    Quote Quoting stilllearning
    View Post
    Thanks again for your attention. The police refused to provide me with the details.
    It seems to me that they either tracked you down through the title to the vehicle you believed you were purchasing, in which case it stands to reason that they have a lot of information about the car theft ring that sold it to you (I'm assuming this isn't a one-time incident for the seller), or you had it serviced somewhere and the mechanic discovered and (somehow) reported the actual VIN resulting in its identification as a stolen vehicle. I can't think of a third way. The police may be reluctant to share details if this is part of an ongoing multi-state investigation. It's also possible that they don't know much more than the fact that the car was stolen.

    I suspect that the "salvage title" was obtained when the person who sold you the car purchased a totaled vehicle of the same make and model, stripped off the VIN plate from the dashboard and door, then affixed them to a stolen vehicle. (One tip-off people should watch for - are the rivets holding the VIN plate in place on the dashboard smooth? If the car's not quite old or a classic, it should have rosette rivets - six "petals" and a hole in the middle. All U.S.-manufactured vehicles have used stainless steel rosette rivets since 1970. Also the VIN plate shouldn't be scratched or bent.) If your mechanic did not somehow trigger the association between your car and the stolen vehicle, the police agency investigating the car theft probably has a pretty good idea of who was involved, as they would have to be tracking down the "salvage title" vehicles sold by a particular individual or group of people.

    As an insurance company owns the vehicle, you may wish to check with that insurance company and see how much they would charge to sell it to you. It's an imperfect solution, but they probably won't be able to get much for it at an auction given the salvage title and VIN issues.

    Meanwhile, the seller's conduct is criminal - I'm assuming the guy was involved in the theft and VIN-switching, but that's a reasonable assumption under these circumstances. It would also support a civil suit, but you would have to be able to identify who he actually is and hope he has money to satisfy any resulting judgment.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Police Claim Car I Bought A Year Ago Was Previously Stolen

    Thanks again to all. I checked the VIN plate and it looks slightly bent. Could not see the rivets well enough. Could not find other VIN locations so far. But the lesson is clear: don't buy from a private party unless you are a security expert because the state officials will not provide you with car ID check procedure.
    In fact, tomorrow, when I see that detective from NY auto theft unit, I'll ask him if I can call them next time I'm about to buy a car, even from a dealer, and have them come and inspect it. I'll let you know.
    And I thought about buying the vehicle back from the insurance company but was afraid about possible high price. It's a good point that having all the issues with the car, the price should be lower.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Police Claim Car I Bought A Year Ago Was Previously Stolen

    If the VIN plate is "slightly bent" it's a good bet that it has been tampered with. I think you've learned a very valuable - but costly - lesson. You don't need to be a "Security Expert" - just use good common sense.

    Even manufacture dealerships have been known to unwittingly sell stolen cars to customers. It happens.

  10. #10

    Default Re: Police Claim Car I Bought A Year Ago Was Previously Stolen

    Well, I'm carless now, that's the price for being careless. The detective removed the VIN plate while I was watching. These bums (thieves, of course) didn't even bother to make a new plate - they just removed the original one, where the letters/digits were sticking out over the surface, flipped the plate over, attached a paper printout with fake printout to the other side and stuck it back in with some half-cut rivets, so all this time I was driving with a legitimate VIN plate concealed under the printout. Next time I will at least look carefully at how VIN plates look on same models before buying - necessary but not sufficient condition. The driver door sticker was forged as well, of course.
    Now that my wife and I share the story, we heard about a similar issue that happened at a dealership, and the cops it sometimes happens with dealers, too.
    But here's an interesting twist: the cops told me that the fake VIN actually belonged to a real car registered somewhere in CT at the time of purchase. So when my wife brought the paperwork to DMV right after the purchase, they didn't even look at their database that must've contained that VIN already!!! This is something that stunned me much more than a printout under the windshield. It's 21st century! That number must've popped out on their screens with big red letters, with alarm sounding along, right when they entered it in the computer! The cops told me these things like that happen sometimes since the DMV is a very place but it doesn't sound convincing at all. The fraud could've been stopped right there and then! In my case, the seller would be arrested right away. The guy didn't seem hiding from me at the time - he actually called me couple of days after purchase asking to run Carfax report for a car he said he was considering to buy for his daughter. I was theorizing earlier about creating some official state VIN physical ID procedure intended to protect us from this kind of fraud. Forget that!!! They cannot properly identify a unique number in the database, what else could be said! Never sued anyone, but IMHO this institution deserves to be sued. A lot of crime could've been prevented...

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