Canadian Underwriter

Brokers can help clients avoid purchasing stolen vehicles

September 19, 2022   by Philip Porado

Used car with for sale sign in window

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One of the best things a broker can do for a client planning to buy a used car is to provide tips for making sure that vehicle isn’t stolen, said Bryan Gast, vice president of investigative services with Équité Association.

He noted legitimate online sale and auction sites offer buyers certain protections, including fact sheets with data on a vehicle’s provenance and the results of police checks on the vehicle identification number (VIN).

Gast led Équité’s participation in an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) operation called Project Myra focusing on organized car theft and resale rings that washed the stolen vehicles’ identities by altering their VINs.

“But you’ll also have stolen vehicles floating around [some online sales sites] or curb-siders presenting themselves as legitimate used car dealers,” said Gast. “Those are the ones [buyers] have to be careful with and do their due diligence. You don’t just have to know who the seller is, you have to know the history of that vehicle.”

First off, sellers must provide buyers with a used-car information package. “That’s mandatory,” he said. “But you also have to check to make sure that it hasn’t been altered. A piece of paper can look like it’s legit, when in fact it’s not.”

As a backup check, Gast suggested using a service like Carfax, which gives prospective buyers details on a vehicle’s history. Things like kilometre or mileage counts that conflict with what a buyer saw when looking at a car’s odometer, or repair and service data from cities, provinces or U.S. states where the car allegedly hadn’t been registered are red flags that a vehicle may be stolen and possibly had its VIN changed.

A buyer can also plug the VIN into an online survey application run by the Canadian Police Information Centre that will tell them if the car’s been stolen.

“That really only protects [a buyer] if the VIN hasn’t been redone, if they’re just trying to sell it outright and quickly,” said Gast. “Running that VIN online [is also a good idea] to see if it’s for sale in other areas. It’s always interesting to see what might pop up.”

Buyers also must be careful where they go to make a deal, especially if a seller asks for cash, said Gast, who spent years as an OPP officer.

“Don’t put yourself in harm’s way [and] if you’re suspicious, walk away,” he said. “There’s been some bad things that have happened in Ontario in the last 10 years when it comes to the selling of vehicles. Not to be an alarmist but just a realist.”

And, while knowing a vehicle’s history can save a lot of headaches, buyers should be aware the old adage ‘if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,’ might not save them the way it once did.

“Criminals are adjusting to that,” said Gast. “They’re not pricing the vehicles ultra low because that is a red flag. They price it at fair market value, and it looks legit.”


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