Carvana (allegedly) sold someone a stolen truck. Yes, you read that correctly. A viral video on TikTok from a woman named Erin Stitt depicts the saga her and her boyfriend went through buying a 2018 Chevy Silverado Midnight Edition from Carvana, only to be stopped by six police cars and have the truck they just bought towed away.
Here’s what we know, and what you need to be aware of before you buy a car from Carvana, Vrooom, or any car dealer.
Let’s dive in.
Erin’s story is an unfortunate case of VIN cloning. This is where thieves steal a car (or in this case a truck) and cover up the vehicle’s VIN plates with a different VIN number. Criminals do this to obfuscate the true identity of the vehicle.
The procedure involves replacing the serial plate of a stolen or salvage repaired vehicle with a plate containing the number of a validly registered vehicle of similar make, model and year from another state, province or country.
VIN cloning is more rampant than you would have thought. For example, there was one case from Tampa, Florida, where the FBI found more than 1,000 cloned cars were sold across 20 different states. The most unfortunate aspect of this is that the purchaser is still be responsible for any outstanding loans, even though they didn’t realize they purchased a “cloned” car.
How did it pass state inspection?
Erin posed this question in her TikTok video, “How did a stolen truck pass state inspection?” That’s a great question, however it’s not too difficult to understand once you dig into the state inspection requirements for many of the 50 states. Most don’t require a VIN inspection, and heck, even if they do, there’s a good chance the inspector will not notice the fake VIN plates.
More on state inspection requirements can be found here: https://insurify.com/blog/car-insurance/state-vehicle-inspection/
How can you protect yourself from buying a stolen vehicle?
What steps can you take as a car buyer to avoid being in Erin’s situation? There are a few things you can do:
- If you are buying a used vehicle, always get it pre-purchased inspected. There’s no guarantee that a mechanic will be able to determine if a VIN plate is fake or not, but it’s always best to pay $150 or so to have a second set of eyes look over a vehicle.
- If you are buying a car from Carvana or Vroom, and you can’t get an inspection before purchasing the vehicle, get an inspection immediately afterwards so that you can return the car within 7 days if you do identify an issue. In Erin’s case they had to take the vehicle in for service because of issues with the OnStar system, this was an initial “flag” that could have let them know to return the vehicle.
Another common scam to watch out for: title washing
VIN cloning is common (sadly), and another form of deception that criminals use from time to time is called title washing. We have an entire article on title washing that I encourage you to read here: https://caredge.com/guides/title-washing/