What you need to know about vehicle cloning

When it comes to your motor vehicle, generally the kind of criminal act you worry about is that it will get stolen. However, this isn’t the only thing to be concerned about. Have you ever given consideration to the possibility that you are driving a cloned and stolen vehicle?

What is a cloned vehicle?

A cloned vehicle is a vehicle that was stolen, and then equipped with the forged vehicle identification number of a legitimate vehicle. In other words, car cloning is the identity theft of vehicles, and there is more than one victim in this scenario.

What’s it to you?

Even if you believe that you have bought your car fairly and illegally, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that if it is a stolen vehicle and its true pedigree is discovered, the car will be taken away from you. Even worse, you will still be liable for any outstanding loans.

Even if you aren’t the unwitting owner of a stolen car, but the innocent owner of the vehicle that was cloned, you could be accused of a variety of civil or criminal offenses, especially if the stolen and cloned vehicle was used for criminal activities. You could spend a lot of time and money trying to prove that it wasn’t you or your vehicle.

What can you do?

The best way to fight vehicle cloning is data sharing between relevant entities (such as the police, Financial Intelligence Centre, National Prosecuting Authority, the Department of Transport and financing companies and insurers).

Unfortunately, South Africa still has some steps to take to achieve adequate data sharing. However, there are still measures you can take to protect yourself. You can help prevent illegal activities like vehicle cloning by buying vehicles from reputable dealers, and being careful about private dealers, like a stranger who put up an advert simply with a cellphone number. If you are going to buy from a private dealer, make sure you see the papers proving ownership with your own eyes, and ask for proof of residence as well. And whatever you do, do not buy used cars without a service book or owner’s manual.

Further, check that the vehicle identification number and chassis numbers of a vehicle are identical, making sure that there is no evidence these numbers were tampered with.

Also look out for other signs that you are not dealing with a stolen vehicle. For instance, the vehicle should ideally have two sets of keys, with the keys for the doors and the ignition correlating. There also should not be damage to the locks or ignition system.

Finally, trust your instincts. If you don’t get a good feeling from the seller or if the deal sounds too good to be true, just walk away. There are many pre-owned cars for sale that are both legitimate and a good deal. Don’t be scammed into getting involved in a criminal act you want no part of.