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VIN Switching is a technique used by thieves to disguise the identity of a stolen vehicle. They will replace the VIN on a stolen vehicle with one that is not associated with an active theft record. The thief will try to re-sell the stolen car to an unsuspecting buyer.


In addition to manually switching the VIN labels, the thieves will usually also develop fraudulent titles and registrations to further convince the buyer that the vehicle is not stolen.


Another form of VIN Switching is the Salvage Scam.  When a vehicle which is extensively damaged, burned, or stripped of parts and deemed not worthy of repair, it is referred to as "salvaged". Car thieves will use a phony name and address to buy a salvaged vehicle solely for it's VIN and title. They will then steal a car matching the make and model of the salvaged vehicle and then switch the stolen VIN with the VIN from the salvaged vehicle. The perpetrators then claim that the vehicle has been rebuilt and register the car under the same name used to by the salvaged vehicle. They are then free to re-sell the stolen vehicle to an unsuspecting purchaser.

Click on video to see an NBC News report on VIN Switching


A VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) is an identifier number that is used to differentiate between different makes,  models and characteristics of the many vehicles manufactured all over the world. Much like a social security or social insurance number, every vehicle made is assigned a unique 17 digit VIN which is stamped on a metal plate or printed on a label and attached to the vehicle in several locations.


The VIN is most easily viewed on the driver-side dashboard through the windshield, or on the driver-side door frame, but may also located on other areas of the vehicle. (See graphic below).  Law enforcement agencies can use the VIN to determine if a vehicle has an active theft record and has been reported stolen.

Sample Vehicle Info Tag with VIN, Barcode and Other Info

Typical VIN Locations on a Vehicle