More than 1,000 cars, including a set of luxury vehicles in Maryland and Virginia, have been stolen by suspected “car cloners” in the past six years, according to a review of FBI and police reports by the News4 I-Team.
“Car cloning” is a profitable and sophisticated form of car theft in which thieves mask the identity of a stolen vehicle by creating and installing a bogus vehicle identification number (VIN) on to the car. The fake VIN masks the true identity of the vehicle, allowing thieves to hide the car in plain sight and resell it for a large profit to unsuspecting buyers.
An investigation by the I-Team found a series of recent car cloning cases in the Washington, D.C., area. In one case, I-Team cameras recorded the takedown of a suspected car thief in Forestville, Maryland. Police with the Washington Area Vehicle Enforcement Unit found three stolen, luxury cars outside the home of the suspect. Each of the cars displayed a fraudulent VIN, according to police investigators.
One of the seized cars, a white Chevrolet Corvette, recently was stolen from a Fredericksburg, Virginia, car dealership, according to police reports and surveillance footage obtained by the I-Team.
“Everybody we’re dealing with in these VIN cloning operations are for-profit thieves,” National Insurance Crime Bureau investigator Tom Reich said. “They aren’t just stealing a car to get from one place to another.”
The proceeds from car cloning and VIN fraud can be funneled into criminal enterprises, according to the I-Team’s review. The resale of stolen vehicles helped fund a major Maryland racketeering ring called Simple City, according to the Washington Area Vehicle Enforcement Unit, which helped investigate the crime ring. Members of Simple City pleaded guilty last year. The organization was suspected of more than $5 million in crimes.
A review of Maryland court records shows more than 140 cases of altered or forged serial numbers in 2015, including from automobiles.
“(Cars) can be re-vinned on different machines or by hand,” Prince George’s County Police Lt. David Coleman said. “(Some criminals) automate it. As many ways as you and I can think up, it’s probably been done.”
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.