Jesse Jones: Victim of VIN cloning scam paid $40,000 for a stolen car, Jesse gets money back

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.

Maril was 4 Runnin’ registered for almost three years. But when she tried to buy tabs in February, the licensing agent directed her to a VIN inspection by the Washington State Patrol.

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 WSP 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.” So, Maril called me.

Christine Anthony of the Department of Licensing said the case helped them find a gap in their system. She blames the third-party licensing agency for switching the title from Oregon to Washington without running a national title check.

“There’s a number on all titles. You’re supposed to enter that title number into the database,” said Christine. “And, that didn’t happen.”

Anthony adds the DOL learned the title was fraudulent more than a year ago. But made a mistake by requiring Maril to keep buying tabs.

“We thought that if you cancel the title, the registration automatically gets canceled. But, we learned that that wasn’t what happened in this case. So, we have changed that process for the future,” Anthony said.

That’s good to know, but what about her auto insurance?

“They wouldn’t talk to me. They just kind of laughed and said, no, you have no claim,” said Maril.

I contacted Farmers Insurance, and a spokesperson told me they were investigating the case.

A few weeks later I got a call from Maril. “Farmers finally paid my claim today. After all this, they said no, no, no, they finally came through. Thanks to you!”

Farmers says:

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

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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