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TRAP Case File: VIN Switching

Walter was looking for a good transportation car and observed an immaculate gold Oldsmobile Cutlass for sale parked on the street. The Olds appeared to be in excellent condition, so he recorded the telephone number on the for sale sign.

Walter telephoned the number and left a message on a pager. Moments later Walter received a telephone call from a male calling himself William. William said that he was selling the Olds and identified it as a 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass. Walter and William agreed to meet the next day so Walter could inspect the vehicle.

The next day Walter arrived at the agreed location and saw the Olds parked, however, nobody was in the area. After about 10 minutes, a male approached Walter and identified himself as William. William unlocked the Olds and started the engine so Walter could inspect it. William told Walter that he was selling the Olds because he had recently lost his job and needed money.

William said he was selling the Olds for $3,000. Walter knew that $3,000 was a good price and the price was even under blue book. Walter paid William $3,000 cash and William provided Walter with the title to the Olds.

Several months later Walter was stopped for a traffic violation while driving his 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass. During the stop, the officer told Walter that his Olds was actually a 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass. The officer then impounded Walter’s Olds. Of course, Walter was unable to contact William because the pager had been disconnected and the address listed on the vehicle’s title was erroneous.

Auto Theft detectives informed Walter that his 1985 Olds Cutlass was in fact a vin-switched stolen 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass. To obscure the true identity of Walter’s Olds, thieves used the license plates and other numbers from a 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass to hide the vehicle’s true identity.

The Auto Theft detectives subsequently arrested William. Unfortunately, Walter was never able to recover his $3,000. The investigation revealed that William had previously owned a 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass. After he wrecked it, William stole a 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass. He removed the license plates and other numbers from his wrecked 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass and placed them on the 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass.

Buyers of used vehicles should ask the seller for valid photo identification and ensure that the identification and addresses for the vehicle and seller correspond. Buyers should make reference to the TRAP’s handout for steps to follow when purchasing a vehicle from strangers.