Cloning isn't necessarily a foreign concept to us. But I hadn't really thought of cloning beyond the realm of the lab. Then I heard about the crime of vehicle cloning. And it's not what you think it is - the "bad guys" aren't sitting around making cars in their garage. There's a bit more to it...

Vehicle cloning is a crime that takes the VIN on one vehicle (the unique number assigned to each vehicle) and puts it on another, similar, car. Using a few not-so-legal techniques, the criminals manage to replicate titles, plates, and ownership documents so that the vehicle can be transferred to unsuspecting buyers. On paper, these cars look exactly alike...

Here's how it happens: The criminal starts looking at car dealerships and parking lots seeing where a visible VIN can be taken. They copy the VIN, counterfeit supporting documentation and then steal a similar car to the one that legitimately has the VIN. With the VIN from a "real car", the criminals can work on creating the titles, new VIN plates, and the other paperwork we have to own our cars. The scary part is that the owner of the vehicle with the original VIN has no idea their identification number has been put on other cars for fraudulent purposes

After the stolen car is ready to hit the road, the masterminds will often work the car from state to state so that the trail of who's owned the car is murky enough to mask the fact that the car is stolen and the papers forged. At that point, they usually find a willing buyer, sell the car and drive off into the sunset.

So how do you spot these crafty crooks?
- Double check your VIN numbers to make sure that it isn't a VIN twin to another car.
- See if there's anything...odd...in the cars past. Lots of short-term owners? A fairly nice, new car without a lien holder?
- Use extra caution when looking at internet or newspaper ads. While these are great sources, they do require a little extra research.
- Have a private company check out the history of the car. Sometimes a vehicle history search turns up something suspicious.
- Most importantly, if it seems to good to be true, or you sense something is off about the deal, walk away. It's not worth ending up with a stolen  vehicle.

Want more information? The National Insurance Crime Bureau has a great brochure on their site: www.nicb.org.