How to Find Out if I'm Buying a Stolen Car

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It is important to do a little homework when purchasing a car. A few quick checks help prevent possible fraud, including buying a car that has been reported stolen. Fortunately, you can quickly assess the legal status of a car and its current owner using a few simple procedures and steps.

Whenever you buy a used vehicle, it’s important to do your homework to make certain you’re making a legitimate and legal purchase. Part of your responsibility as a buyer is to ensure the car you’re buying isn’t stolen. With just a little information about the car, you can run a check to see if the vehicle is reported in national and local crime databases. In most cases, the search is free, but some local agencies may require a small fee – typically less than $5 – to run a report.

Locate the Car's VIN Number

Obtain the car’s vehicle identification number, commonly referred to as the VIN. This is a unique number assigned specifically to the vehicle. Only one car can have a particular VIN and it is never shared with another car or cancelled and reassigned to a new vehicle. The VIN can be found on a plaque in the corner of the car’s dashboard, on the vehicle’s title paperwork or registration cards and on insurance policy documents.

Visit the National Insurance Crime Bureau Website

Visit the National Insurance Crime Bureau website. This website provides criminal information associated with insurance claims. If a vehicle you want to purchase was reported stolen to an insurance company and never recovered, the VIN Check on the website will let you know. Visit the website at and click the blue “Search VINCheck” link. Enter the VIN number in the search box, check the box to agree to the terms and conditions, check the box to prove you're not a robot and then tap the orange "Search VIN" button to obtain your results.

Call Your State's DMV

Contact the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) where the car is registered. The state DMV may have information about stolen vehicles reported to local authorities that may not appear on the website. Some states, such as Colorado and Florida, allow you to perform a free VIN check on the state website. Other states may require you to fill out and submit a form to obtain VIN information. Since each state operates differently, contact the state DMV and ask how to perform your search.

Get a Carfax Vehicle History Report

Ask the seller for a Carfax Vehicle History Report, or order one yourself from the company's website. If the seller isn't willing to give you one, that may be a red flag. After the report is generated, look for a clone alert, several registrations from different states and reported mileage that doesn't match the current odometer reading. These are all signs of fraud and may indicate that the car is stolen.


About the Author

With a background in taxation and financial consulting, Alia Nikolakopulos has over a decade of experience resolving tax and finance issues. She is an IRS Enrolled Agent and has been a writer for these topics since 2010. Nikolakopulos is pursuing Bachelor of Science in accounting at the Metropolitan State University of Denver.