The Israeli police uncovered a sophisticated con that can be described as “car-identity theft.” (I could not find an English version of this article, I emailed the reporter and I’ll update the post if there is one.) The con went like this:
- 1. Thief rents a car.
- 2. An identical car, legitimately owned, is found and its “identity” stolen.
- 3. The stolen identity is applied to the rented car and is then offered for sale in a newspaper ad.
- 4. Innocent buyer purchases the car from the thief as a regular private party sale.
- 5. After a few days the thief steals the car back from the buyer and returns it to the rental shop.
What ended up happening is that the “new” owners claimed compensation for the theft and most of the damage was absorbed by the insurers while the thieves pocketed the cash from the transaction. I assume the whole thing got uncovered when the police was probing more closely at a case (most stolen cars in Israel are never found, so I doubt they make any effort to recover them) perhaps as part of an insurance fraud investigation. Most likely and as common, the crooks got greedy and overdid the con. The police said they were able to recover a few cars that were in the process of being sold by the con-men.
There are no details on how the borrowed identities were found or assumed. The thieves must have had an inside source at the “department of transportation” to give them the details from the database to find a good match. False papers are then easily made.
It would be hard to prevent these kinds of cons without linking the insurers’ databases and the DMV’s (or equivalent) DBs and having the buyer verify the data with them prior to closing the deal. Something that wouldn’t happen in the near future, I bet. Or, a form of car identity protection scheme be implemented to make the assumption of one more difficult.
The original (Hebrew) article is very short on details of the mechanics of the con. Perhaps they thought that they would prevent copycats by not disclosing these details.
I’ve never purchased a car in Israel, but I asked my father for the mechanics of the transaction and he also provided me with a title. Some observations:
1. The “title” or “pink slip” is an easily forged piece of paper, there is one piece of silver impression that is more for style than protection (it included the VIN number, owner ID/address/name and car info.)
2. In order to sell a car the seller and the buyer need to appear _in person_ at the DMV (or equivalent), bank or post office to show their ID (fake one for the thief) just for the purpose of showing they both actually exists. Clearly, those places have no access to any car registry database except the former and they don’t have the ability to examine the car. This step is to authenticate the people, not the car.
3. No authority ever looks at the car in any step of the transaction.
4. There is no Carfax in Israel (this is critical, although the thief could provide a fake report while the buyer is excited to get the car for cheap and never runs it on his own.)
I believe that the whole thing fell apart when someone tried to insure the car where it was already insured…