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7 Signs You’re Buying a Stolen Car

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Car thief

Buying a car from a private seller can yield great deals, but sometimes a deal is too good to be true. The vehicle could be stolen, and the seller is trying to get rid of it as fast as possible. It’s always important to do your research when you’re buying a car through a private seller, and that includes looking for these signs you’re buying a stolen car.

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Look for warning signs you’re buying a stolen car

Suspicious behavior

How closely the seller lets you look at the car or how pushy they are in getting you to buy it could be a red flag. If the seller refuses to let you inspect the car, take pictures of it, or bring it to a mechanic to inspect, they may be trying to hide something.

License plate

The car being sold should have a license plate on it. Make sure it matches the one currently registered to the DMV. If the plate itself or the bolts holding it look brand-new, beware: Why would a person update their plates and then immediately sell the car?

Missing keys

The seller should have the original keys for the vehicle, especially if it’s a newer model year. If the seller only has copies and is missing the fobs, take notice.

VIN number condition

The VIN number is the fingerprint of each vehicle: It’s one-of-a-kind for that particular car. So, the biggest indicators that a car is stolen involve the VIN number. First, find the VIN (typically in the driver’s side of the dashboard where it meets the windshield) and inspect it’s condition. Is it loose, painted, or scratched off? Does it look like it’s been tampered with?

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Check the title

Make sure the VIN on the car matches the VIN on the title with it. Also, check the name on the title to see if it’s the seller’s and not someone else’s or a dealership’s name. If it isn’t their name, they can’t sell you the car — and it might not even be their car. Some states even require stolen vehicles to receive a salvage title after their theft has been reported.

Vehicle history report

Look up the vehicle history report. Does the description and history of the vehicle on the CarFax report match the one for sale? Are there any suspicious entries in the history report?

Check NICB records

The public has access to the National Insurance Crime Bureau database, a non-profit organization managing vehicle theft investigations. You can search the VIN number to see if any thefts or crimes have been reported involving that vehicle.

If you suspect that the car for sale is stolen, take the information you have on it and contact the police.

Source: Buying a Car for Dummies by Deanna Sclar