It begins with a stolen vehicle. Then the vehicle is “cloned” — its manufacturer-installed VIN plate is pried off and replaced with another one. This second VIN plate actually holds a legitimate number that came from a vehicle of a similar make and model in a different state. Other phony ownership documents complete the cloning. At that point it can be easily registered with a motor vehicle agency in another state.
Once the stolen vehicle is registered anew, it can be sold (to both willing and, mostly, unwilling buyers). Needless to say, this entails losses in millions of dollars to consumers, auto insurers, and other victims.
In recent times, there have been progressive changes effected by the government to centralize nationwide DMV information making it increasingly difficult for thieves to sell a stolen car without getting caught. But these felons do not let up and have devised ways to keep up. Consider the following modus operandi.
After stealing a car, criminals would often buy a similar car that has been totaled / scrapped / salvaged for a really good price. Then, they slap the VIN of the salvaged car onto the stolen car before selling the stolen car under the car’s “new identity”. So, if a vehicle history report shows that a car has previously been “scrapped” or “crushed” or severely damaged, it should be a red flag that this might possibly be a stolen car.