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What's in a VIN?: Decoding Vehicle Identification Numbers Puts the Brakes on Auto Theft, Cloning and Chop Shop Operations

NCJ Number
Law Enforcement Technology Volume: 35 Issue: 6 Dated: June 2008 Pages: 90,92,96
Kathy Steck-Flynn
Date Published
June 2008
6 pages
In an effort to increase law enforcement awareness, this article explains the data a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) contains and methods used by criminals to alter or obliterate VIN information.
A VIN is a series of numbers and letters that represent coded forms of vehicle information. Every number and letter represents information specific to that vehicle, such as country produced, make, body type, engine code, model year, and assembly plant. Before 1967, a VIN could be placed almost anywhere on the vehicle. After 1968, North American manufacturers were required to place the code in an area visible from outside the vehicle. The data string is usually found on the left-hand side of the dash next to the vehicle’s lower edge. There are two ways to alter a VIN. The simple way is to obliterate the digits. This technique is used to slow police down by making it harder for law enforcement officials to identify the vehicle or its owner. The most difficult changes to catch are the forgeries. Changing the identity of a VIN are usually done in vehicle “cloning” operations and commonly done with high-end vehicles. To detect stolen vehicles, uncover chop shops, or identify cloning operations, law enforcement need to know what is in a VIN and where it can be found.