Always wanted to own a Mercedes? Maybe you do and just don't know it. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) warns that thieves are using stolen identities to lease or buy new vehicles, drive them off the lot, then disappear without making a payment. Often the cars are exported to other parts of the world, says Frank Scafidi, spokesman for the NICB. If you're the identity theft victim who just had a vehicle purchased in your name, "the big problem is unscrewing the situation," Scafidi says. "Once you can demonstrate it (the car) is not yours, the banks will eat it or recoup it if it's found somewhere." This type of crime has caught the attention of the FBI, as well as NICB. In May, the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Diego charged three men in an international auto theft ring. The trio used stolen identities and stolen credit card numbers to purchase 44 vehicles worth more than $500,000, and ship them to Ghana. The three had purchased stolen credit card numbers and corresponding counterfeit driver's licenses online. They used that information to purchase cars from U.S. dealerships, stocking up on Toyotas and Mercedes. The cars were transported to New Jersey, then shipped to Ghana, where they were sold. The scam came to an end when a dealership became suspicious and contacted the FBI.
It's fraud, not auto theft
Scafidi says it's impossible to say how many similar cases have occurred in the United States in the past few years because they're classified as financial fraud rather than auto theft. The FBI tracks annual auto thefts under its Uniform Crime Reporting Program. These types of cases will catch the attention of the banks that have financed these vehicles when no payments are made on the loans, Scafidi says. The financial institutions typically turn to law enforcement for assistance, and if they try to repossess the vehicles and can't find them, they may contact the NICB.