What are the signs of a stolen car?

I’m car shopping and don’t have much to spend so I’ve been looking into buying used from a private seller. A friend warned me that some private sellers dupe naive buyers into paying for a stolen car. What are some signs of a stolen car?

Mary Cahill · Updated on
Reviewed by Shannon Martin, Licensed Insurance Agent.
I’m sure you’re going to find a great vehicle! It can be tricky to spot scammers if you don’t know what to look for.
One of the most important signs of a stolen car is the seller won’t provide the vehicle identification number, or VIN.
A trustworthy private seller won’t mind if you write down the VIN—it’s located on the inside of the driver’s side door, on the metal strip inside the car below the windshield, or on a sticker in the trunk within the spare tire storage compartment. If you notice the number has been scratched off or the seller is hesitant or refuses to let you have it, dodge this red flag and move on.
Once you have the VIN, plug it into the National Insurance Crime Bureau website to see if the vehicle has been reported stolen. You can also ask your insurance company to run the VIN through their database, or check with the DMV to make sure the license plates are registered to the car you are interested in buying.
Other signs you may be looking at a stolen car include:
  • The VIN on the car doesn’t match the VIN on the vehicle’s service report and/or title
  • The seller insists you pay cash
  • The seller won’t let you meet them at their home
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