The FBI will reportedly announce today that it has broken up one of the biggest auto theft cases in the country.
The FBI says that a car cloning ring that has been operating for more than 20 years has been taking license plates, vehicle identification numbers (VIN) and other tags and stickers from a legal car and putting them on a stolen vehicle of similar make and model, CNN reports.
Named "Operation Dual Identity," the FBI has issued arrest warrants for 17 people in Tampa and Miami, Fla.; Chicago, Ill.; and in Mexico City and Guadalajara, Mexico. These individuals allegedly made stolen cars look like legal ones and then sold them or exchanged the cars for drugs.
One victim bought a truck with a $27,000 car loan from his local credit union. After the truck was taken as evidence, he is still required to make payments on the auto loan, even though he doesn’t have the truck any more.
Consumers and banks are the victims of the scam. Car shoppers think the car is legal and therefore get a car loan for it. Banks don’t know the vehicle is stolen when they approve the consumer for financing.
More than 1,000 vehicles were stolen in Florida, with more than $25 million in losses to consumers and banks. Cloned vehicles were moved and sold to buyers in 20 states and several countries, often for less than market value, the FBI said.
Hopefully, the FBI will give tips to consumers on how not to become a victim of car cloning when it makes its announcement later today. Consumers should be able to find out whether or not the car they are about to buy is legal or stolen.