Vehicle Cloning


Our recent publication concerning Classic Car Fraud prompted a reader to send us a link to a publication by the National Insurance Crime Bureau. We think the NICB's publication was an excellent summary of the problems and costs associated with "cloning", and we thought providing you an abridged edition of their report would be helpful and informative.



Cloning is a popular topic these days... and not just in the scientific community. Vehicle cloning is a growing crime affecting consumers who purchase used vehicles. What unsuspecting buyers believe is a legitimate used car, truck or classic vehicle could actually be a stolen vehicle.

Cloning is a crime in which a stolen vehicle assumes the identity of non-stolen, legally owned vehicle is a similar make and model. By applying counterfeit labels, plate, stickers and titles to a stolen vehicle, criminals can make them appear as a legitimate, legally owned car or truck. These criminals - many whom participate in organized crime rings specializing in vehicle cloning schemes - then sell the stolen vehicles to unsuspecting consumers.

The result is that two or more vehicles that look exactly

alike... at least by their identification documents and vehicle tags now exist. The reality is that only one is a legitimate, legally-owned vehicle. The rest are stolen and have been disguised to look like the legitimate one.

While scientists and politicians debate futuristic genetic cloning, insurance companies, law enforcement agencies and investigators from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) battle real-life vehicle cloning crimes on the streets today. There's no debate here: Vehicle cloning is a highly lucrative crime. Estimated U.S. vehicle cloning profits exceed $12 million annually, with criminals netting an average of $30,000 per cloned vehicle.



Vehicle cloning is a relatively easy and inexpensive crime to commit. For less than $2,000, cloning criminals use a computer, color printer, typewriter, barcode label printer, rotary tool and engraving pen to counterfeit a vehicle's identification numbers, sticker, labels and titles.


A cloner will copy a vehicle identification number (VIN) from a legally owned and documented vehicle, perhaps sitting in a parking lot or car dealership - oftentimes being high-value sport utility vehicles and luxury cars. The legitimate VIN is used to create a counterfeit VIN tag, frequently producing multiple copies. 

Thieves will then steal a similar vehicle as the legally owned one, replace the stolen vehicle's VIN tag with the counterfeit version containing the legitimate vehicle's identification numbers. Bearing a counterfeit tag, the stolen vehicle is now a "clone" of the legitimate one and can ready to be titled without detection by the Motor Vehicle agencies. To the DMV, the stolen vehicle looks just like the one in the parking lot... on paper that is.

To complete their scam, criminals then create counterfeit ownership documents for the cloned vehicle or obtain the ownership documentation under false pretense, such as identity theft. The phony documentation is used to sell the stolen vehicle to an innocent purchaser, frequently at fair or below-market value.

Sophisticated cloning operations can produce vehicle clones that are virtually undetectable by consumers, and are oftentimes only discovered through physical inspections by experienced auto theft investigators - frequently long after the date of the vehicle's purchase.


Vehicle cloning schemes are limited only by the audacity and greed of individuals involved in these crimes. The cloners use a variety of tools to ply their criminal trade.

Fraudulent/Counterfeit Documents:
Cloning operations typically alter, produce, sell and possess illegal documents, such as vehicle identification stickers, bar codes, titles, registrations, licenses and insurance cards.

Altered Vehicle Identification Number:
Cloning rings intentionally alter or duplicate a legitimate registered VIN and use that VIN on the counterfeit ownership and registration documents, as well as the cloned vehicle.

Title Washing:
Title washing involves transferring a vehicle title among states to remove title brands and change an odometer reading. Criminals will transfer the title among several states to disguise the vehicle's history and confuse the ownership trail. They use the final clean title to sell the vehicle to an unsuspecting customer.

Identity Theft:
Cloning rings frequently steal personal identification documents, such as driver's licenses, social security numbers, credit card numbers and repair/service receipts to obtain apparently legal ownership of a vehicle that is subsequently cloned, resold, stripped for parts or illegally exported.

The Internet:
Criminals increasing use the Internet to scam vehicle buyers, counterfeit identification documents and steal identities. Organized criminal rings use Internet auction sites to illegally sell stolen cloned vehicles, identification tags, license plates and other parts.


You should always be on the watch for look-alike cloned vehicles when shopping for a used car or truck. Along with its more than 1,000 insurance companies and self-insured members, the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a not-for-profit organization that creates insurance fraud and theft solutions through information analysis, criminal investigation support, training and public awareness, offers these tips to help you avoid becoming a vehicle cloning crime victim.

Check the vehicle’s VIN with appropriate government agencies and with your state bureau of motor vehicles
Analyze the ownership pattern for any new or late model vehicle with no lien holder.

Have a private company conduct a vehicle history search.

Trust your instincts: If a used vehicle deal sounds too good to be true, walk away.

Finally, the idea of not storing repair or service documents in your vehicle has real importance. Keeping such documents stored as part of a personal Garagistry file for a vehicle is safe, secure and 100% private.

For More Information:

You can learn about vehicle cloning, and how you can protect yourself from these and other crimes,click here to  visit the NICB's web site.

Courtesy: National Insurance Crime Bureau