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A huge $25 million scam stretching from Chicago to Central Mexico involving the "cloning" of cars was broken up by the FBI, according to CNN. To anyone wondering what car cloning even is, it's not a crazy lab experiment. The scam involves taking the major identifying features of a legally owned car and putting them on a similar stolen car. This would include the vehicle identification numbers (VINs) and license plates, and possibly identifying stickers too.
CNN related one individual's story, that of Guiseppe "Joe" Pirrone, who got a loan at a credit union to buy a used pickup truck at a dealership only to have the vehicle taken away by police months later. To make matters worse, not only was Pirrone out the money he had paid for the truck up to that point, but the credit union also told him he was still obligated to pay the loan in full. Thus, Pirrone got left stranded with a loan obligation and absolutely nothing of value in return.
Although it's easy to get angry at the credit union for leaving an individual like Pirrone on the hook, car cloning actually leaves behind a wide trail of victims. The FBI told CNN that in this case "[m]ore than 1,000 vehicles were stolen in Florida, with more than $25 million in losses to consumers and banks" and that "[i]ndividuals have been victimized at every level, from the average Joe, to the banks, to big companies".
So what is there for a victim of the scam to do? CNN reports that Pirrone "has hired an attorney, and he is considering filing a lawsuit against the dealership to get the bank's money back. Pirrone said he was advised by his lawyer not to name the used car lot." Clearly, if a used car lot knows or had reason to know that a car they are selling was stolen, they can be held legally responsible by a car's purchaser. But as noted above, a used car lot can also be the victim of car cloning too, and they might not have had any idea that a car was stolen.
Fortunately, the same story reports that law enforcement is hoping that the ring's bust marks "the beginning of the end of the 'car cloning' scam. The National Motor Vehicle Information System (NMVTIS) database was implemented in January," which allows state DMVs to share title and registration information. However, a quick review of the website indicates that states' participation in the system is not universal, as of yet.
The take-away from all of this is probably that it is best to avoid being in a position of having purchased a cloned car in the first place. People looking to buy a used car, whether online or in person, should go about verifying the VIN and car's history via independent sources or with their state's motor vehicle agency before making a purchase. Also, it's probably best to entirely avoid buying a car independently from a stranger. And finally, the old adage applies that "if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is."
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