‘Very shocking’: Victim of VIN cloning scam paid $40,000 for a stolen car

BOSTON — A 2019 Toyota 4Runner was supposed to be Maril Bauter’s retirement ride.

“It was clean, no accidents,” she said.

But Maril was hit head-on by a fraudster. The scam is called VIN cloning, and it can cost you cash and your car.

Vin cloning is when a scammer steals the vehicle identification number from a legit car and places it on one that’s stolen. Then they try to sell it.

“There was no way for her to know that this was actually a stolen car,” said Lt. Jason Hicks, who investigates cloned VIN cases for the Washington State Patrol.

Back in December 2021, Maril found the SUV on Facebook Marketplace and contacted the scammer, who was quick to send the VIN. She did her homework and checked both the VIN & the Carfax.

“It all matched. You know, everything matched up. The title, the VIN number, the name,” said Maril.

Only then did she fly to Portland to buy the SUV and do a $40,000 cash deal at a branch of her bank. Furthermore, when Maril took her bogus title to a licensing agency in Blaine, no one stopped her from getting the title or the tabs.

Christine Anthony is with the Department of Licensing. “Yeah, the system didn’t work like it was supposed to,” she said.

Her car was registered for almost three years before she learned it had been stolen.

The report says the SUV was stolen from a car dealership in Vancouver, Washington. And the VIN was copied from a vehicle with a similar make and model near Portland.

“Whoever did this went above and beyond what’s normally done in these situations to obtain that fraudulent title,” said Lt. Jason Hicks.

This year, the car was seized because it was a stolen vehicle.

“It was very shocking,” said Maril. “I had bought new tires and new rims, and, I mean, I was making it my forever car, and I just had to walk away.”

Now, she’s worried her insurance company won’t pay the claim.

“I kept going higher and higher in the company, and they just kept telling me, you have no claim.”

After our sister station in Seattle contacted Farmers Insurance, a spokesperson said they were investigating the case.

A few weeks later, Maril said, “Farmers finally paid my claim today. After all this, they said no, no, no, they finally came through.”

Farmers says, “After a thorough investigation, we have paid our customer for this loss. The company says it cares deeply about its customer’s claims.”

How can you protect yourself? Make sure everything, including the year, matches the Carfax or other vehicle history report.

Also get your car inspected before by a mechanic before you buy. There are other spots on the car where the VIN is found.

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