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Car Thieves Using VIN Numbers to Obtain Duplicate Keys

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Netlore Archive: Forwarded message warns automobile owners to cover the VIN # on their dashboard with tape to prevent car thieves from writing it down and using it to obtain duplicate keys from a dealership

Description: Email flier / Viral text
Circulating since: Feb. 2003
Status: Overblown (see details below)


Example #1:
Email contributed by Cathy, Feb. 21, 2003:

Subject: Car theft

Just heard this on the news here locally. Apparently car thieves have yet again found a way around the system and steal your car or truck without any effort at all.

The car thieves peer through the windshield of your car or truck, write down the VIN number from the label on the dash, go into the local dealership for that car brand and request a duplicate key for it from the VIN number. Car dealerships make up a duplicate key from the VIN number, collect payment from the 'customer' who's really a would-be car thief for making up the duplicate key -- the car thief goes back to your vehicle, inserts the key they've just gotten and off they drive with your car or truck.

They don't have to break in, don't have to damage the vehicle and draw no attention to themselves as all they have to do is to walk up to your car, insert the key and off they go to their chop shop with your vehicle!!! Can you believe it?

To avoid this from happening to you, simply put opaque tape (like a strip of electrical tape, duct tape or medical tape) across the VIN label located on the dash board. You can't remove the VIN number legally under most state laws, so cover it so that it can't be viewed through the windshield by a car thief. Anyway, feel free to forward this on before some other car thief steals another car or truck like this.

Unbelievable!


Example #2:
Email contributed by Ross P., 20 January 2005:

Subject: Hide your VIN number

What else will thieves think of??

Seems that car thieves have found yet another way to steal your car or truck without any effort at all. The car thieves peer through the windshield of your car or truck, write down the VIN # from the label on the dash, go to the local car dealership and request a duplicate key based on the VIN #. I didn't believe this e-mail, so I called a friend at Chrysler Dodge and pretended I had lost my keys. They told me to just bring in the VIN #, and they would cut me one on the spot, and I could order the keyless device if I wanted. The Car Dealer's Parts Department will make a duplicate key from the VIN #, and collect payment from the thief who will return to your car. He doesn't have to break in, do any damage to the vehicle, or draw attention to himself. All he has to do is walk up to your car, insert the key and off he goes to a local Chop Shop with your vehicle. You don't believe it? It IS that easy.

To avoid this from happening to you, simply put some tape (electrical tape, duct tape or medical tape) across the VIN Metal Label located on the dash board. By law, you cannot remove the VIN, but you can cover it so it can't be viewed through the windshield by a car thief.

I urge you to forward this to your friends before some other car thief steals another car or truck.


Analysis: While there has been at least one well-publicized case (in 2002) of an auto theft ring using a ploy similar to the above to steal vehicles from used car lots, it is a complicated and time-consuming modus operandi and not the most likely way a thief might try to steal your car.

Still, the method can work, as proven in an experiment conducted by WTAE-TV News in Pittsburgh:

After getting permission from the owners, we jotted down VIN numbers from four different vehicles. Then, we went to four diffrerent car dealerships with a hidden camera. We told the same kind of story that a thief might tell: we locked the key in the car and needed a new one.

First, we went to a dealership and tried to get a key made for a 2003 Blazer. It couldn't have been any easier.

Next, we walked into another dealership with a phony story. Half an hour later, we had a key that got us into -- and away with -- the car. The key cost $2 and we paid cash. No one asked for identification.

Three out of the four car dealers struck duplicate keys with no questions asked, the reporters found, even though most dealerships have a policy of demanding identification before doing so. A different investigation conducted by the Sacramento Bee in 2003 found that car dealers were not only aware of the scam but in some cases believed they had actually foiled attempts to illegally obtain keys by insisting on proper documentation from the perpetrators.

Covering the dashboard VIN # is an option for vehicle owners concerned that they may be victimized in this manner, but, since some states prohibit it, checking local laws is advisable first.


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Sources and further reading:

Internet Helping Fuel Fear About New Car Theft Scam
Sacramento Bee, 23 September 2003

Team 4: Protect Your Car's VIN
WTAE-TV News, 29 April 2003

Auto Theft Prevention Tips
From the Florida Anti-Car Theft Committee


Last updated: 01/21/05


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