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clever “car-identity theft” con uncovered in Israel

September 18, 2005 by Saar Drimer

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.

Update:
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…


8 Comments »

  1. Helen says:

    What kind of havoc does this wreak for the owner of the car whose identity is stolen, I wonder?

    Clicked on the link just to see what I could see. Is it a magazine or a newspaper? Is it even “paper”? It is interesting to look at. Interesting to see HP advertising. Are the characters letters or ideograms (if that’s the word)? If they are letters, how many are in the Hebrew alphabet? I know one reads from right to left – I had the irrational feeling I could read it if I just put it in front of a mirror.

  2. Danny Weisman says:

    Helen

    The site is the hebrew language (Ivrit) edition of ‘Haaretz’ an Israeli newspaper. The english language version is available at http://www.haaretzdaily.com/
    The language is character based with the letter names being the source of Greek letters and hence english… Aleph (Alpha), Bet (Beta), Gimmel (Gamma) etc. Interstingly there are no vowels in Hebrew

    Rgds

    Danny

  3. Saar Drimer says:

    Thanks Danny.
    http://www.haaretz.com works just as well, but I couldn’t find an English version of this news in any of the English Israeli outlets (ynetnews.com, jpost.com, globes.co.il.)

    Hellen,
    Looking at Hebrew with a mirror will be just as confusing :)

  4. yitz says:

    helen,
    there are twenty two (22) letters in the hebrew language. (5 of them are written differently if they are at the end of a word, and 6 of them have 2 different ways of being pronounced depending on semi-complicated rules (tho if you mispronounce these people will generally still know what you are talking about, and in terms of reading the pronunciation is obviously irrelevant))

    yitz..

  5. […] Saar Drimer details an interesting variation on Identity Theft Fraud-by-Impersonation involving selling stolen cars which I think illustrates nicely why this is really an Authentication problem. […]

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  7. Helen says:

    Thanks to those who responded to my question! Much appreciated.

    Helen

  8. Eu neuwagen says:

    Interesting variation on Identity Theft Fraud-by-Impersonation involving selling stolen cars.

    Thank You

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