Forgery and Possession of an Unlawful Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) in New York
You may think forging a vehicle identification number, or “VIN,” is a thing of the past but it is still somewhat of a concern in the State of New York today.
What is a vehicle identification number for?
A vehicle identification number (VIN) is designed to identify the vehicle upon manufacture. A vehicle identification number identifies the vehicle, as well as the parts to the vehicle and tracks it back to the vehicle it belongs to.
To clarify A VIN number is to a vehicle what a social security number is to a person. Vehicle identification numbers are assigned to automobiles, and boats are assigned a hull identification number (HIN) and ATV’s typically accompany serial numbers.\
Stolen cars in the 1980s and 1990s
In the 1980s and 1990s, stolen cars were a highly lucrative way of life for many criminals. The “chop shops” were well known for buying stolen cars off-of the car thieves and tampering with the VIN to prevent it from tracing back and alerting the authorities.
In this case, many crooks were profiting, while innocent people were losing their cars on-a-daily-basis. All it took was a daring car thief, a flat-head screwdriver and a tool that was strong enough to etch off the metal engraved VIN numbers throughout the vehicle.
According to the New York Times, one in fifty New York City residents were at risk of losing their vehicle to car theft in 1990. Among those high theft vehicles were the following:
- Grand Nationals
- As well as the low-profile vehicles used to go out to seek these high demand vehicles, while allowing car thieves to stay under the radar of police.
- Even the owners of a basic Volvo or station wagon were at risk for car theft for this very reason.
What happened to the stolen cars?
Police didn’t know how to keep up with this epidemic because stealing cars was easy, very little theft deterrents actually worked, and for those involved in this underground business, there was money to be made. Once the vehicles were stolen, the thieves would part them out in a secluded area, or they were sold to the highest paying chop shop in the area.
In this, the vehicles were either parted out or, the entire vehicle would be sold at street value. In turn, the vehicle identification numbers had to be chiseled off, or altered in some way, so not to alert the police that these parts were stolen. The insurance companies were also at a loss when it came to forging vehicle identification numbers. If a VIN was removed off of the parts of the vehicle, the insurance companies were at a loss to identify the vehicle that was reported stolen, and the claim had to be paid out to the owner or finance company. This proved both costly and frustrating to the insurance industry.
How to combat VIN from being altered?
The way to combat vehicle identification numbers from being altered was, and still is, to perform a bumper-to-bumper inspection on the vehicle. In order to verify the vehicle’s legitimacy was to have an inspector go through all of the parts to the vehicle, including the VIN on the windshield to verify the parts did, in fact, belong to the rightful vehicle.
If the vehicle identification numbers were rubbed off or tampered with, this was a clear sign that these parts were most likely from a stolen vehicle.
Why vehicle identification numbers were forged in New York:
- Car thieves were able to sell stolen cars without being traced
- Chop-Shops were dealing in stolen parts and vehicles without being traced
- Cost to repair vehicles with stolen parts was less expensive than buying them
- Car thieves could joy ride in high demand vehicles
- Insurance fraud was easily carried out without vehicle recovery
However, as technology evolved, car theft and forging a vehicle identification number became more of a risk when the chances of being caught became much greater. Although deterring vehicle theft was near impossible, as the thieves were typically one-step ahead of the authorities, changes were made that became far more beneficial to car owners, police, and insurance companies.
What are the steps made to deter thieves from stealing cars?
Changing the ignition system
The auto manufacturers first step to change the ignition system, which worked toward deterring the thieves from the start. When a thief intends to take your car from your driveway, in front of your door, speed is imperative. If a thief jumps into your vehicle, in your driveway and cannot start the vehicle, he only has one choice, to get out and run before you catch him.
This was very effective on the manufacturers part because it was a huge deterrent when it came to vehicle theft. Although this deterred most thieves, it did not prevent all from stealing their intended vehicle. Some thieves were smart enough to figure out their next recourse of getting the vehicle when there is money to be made!
Add Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to the vehicles
The next recourse for the auto industry in the early 2000s was to add Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to the vehicles. The GPS would locate the vehicle on-demand, and this was simply a much greater risk. The odds of getting caught became much higher and altering a VIN to sell the car, or car parts no longer sounded like a lucrative idea.
Of course, the insurance industry added to this idea by offering discounts to those customers who have a car with GPS installed. This was a win/win situation for the manufacturers, vehicle owner’s and the insurance companies and left those looking to forge the vehicle identification numbers for profitless desirable.
According to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicle, they are raising awareness of altered vehicle identification numbers and the scheme of re-tagging, where the vehicle numbers get altered and replaced to then be sold to an unsuspecting buyer.
2017 Statewide Plan of Operation Detection, Prevention, Deterrence, and Reduction of Motor Vehicle Theft and Related Crimes
As published in the 2017 Statewide Plan of Operation Detection, Prevention, Deterrence, and Reduction of Motor Vehicle Theft and Related Crimes by the DMV.
- Altered Vehicle Identification Numbers: This refers to the intentional alteration of a vehicle’s identification number (VIN) and the use of the fictitious VIN on counterfeit ownership or registration documents. The vehicle is then sold to an unsuspecting buyer.
- Altered Manufacturer Stickers and Bar Codes: The perpetrator will create counterfeit stickers that often have altered VINs with the wrong bar code or one that cannot be read. DMV has added a check digit system as another layer of protection.
- Re-tags: This practice involves the purchase of salvage vehicles from insurance companies or motor vehicle wreckers. The salvage is usually dismantled, but the VIN plate, license plates, title or bill of sale is retained. A vehicle of similar make and model is stolen, and the identity of the salvage vehicle is transferred to it. The stolen vehicle is then sold under this identity.
A more recent concern for automobile owners and insurance companies is when high-end vehicles are stolen for use or for parts and brought to ports for relocation overseas by groups of criminals. Even though some global positioning systems can track overseas, the local police have no jurisdiction there.
These crimes now become federal law as the vehicles are taken out of the state’s jurisdiction. According to Homeland Security, cars are being stolen and relocated overseas to countries such as Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and West Africa. The cars are stolen by criminals and exit the Ports of New York and New Jersey in the more recent years.
With things like GPS and anti-theft devices, why is Forging a VIN still occurring in New York?
- Some thieves still try to find ways to circumvent anti-theft devices/services
- Overseas vehicle identification numbers are less imperative
- Keyless Entry used improperly leaves vehicles vulnerable
- Vehicle repair is still less expensive with stolen parts
- Older vehicles are still vulnerable to car theft
How can I prevent from buying a car after the vehicle identification number has been tampered with?
- Check with the local police department – ask they run your VIN number
- Check with the New York State – Department of Motor Vehicles
- Ask a mechanic to inspect the parts to your vehicle
- Ask for repair records when purchasing a used vehicle
- Check with companies like Carfax to see the vehicle’s history
What are the laws in New York State against forging a vehicle identification number?
New York State Penal Law 170.65 – Forgery of a Vehicle Identification Number
According to this law, you are guilty of forging a vehicle identification number when you alter, tamper, destroy, cover, or change the VIN number. This includes all parts of the vehicle, excluding tires.
You are also guilty of altering a vehicle identification number by removing it from the vehicle or vehicle parts. It is also illegal to affix a vehicle identification number to a vehicle as this is to be done by the manufacturer only. You are not to produce a vehicle identification number plate, sticker, or label to be used to forge or misrepresent the VIN of the vehicle with the intent to forge or mislead.
Forgery of a vehicle identification number is a class E felony in the State of New York. Conviction of a felony in New York State can be punishable by fines, imprisonment, and/or restitution. Additionally, forging a vehicle identification number could result in a civil action taken against you by the buyer of a vehicle.
- A buyer chooses to buy a vehicle manufactured in 1998, so he can use it is a station car and have less concern about leaving it daily at a train station as he commutes to work by railway. As the car buyer takes the vehicle to be inspected, the inspecting mechanic scans the vehicle and notifies the new owner that the vehicle identification number comes back to a different make and model vehicle.
To confirm the issue, the mechanic inspects the undercarriage and finds a second altered VIN number. The new owner immediately becomes alarmed as he is now the new owner of the forged vehicle. The new owner drives the vehicle to the police station and advises the officer that he had only purchased the vehicle one day prior, and he had no knowledge the vehicle was misrepresented by the seller.
The new owner furnishes the bill of sale from the seller to which he purchased the 1998 vehicle. The seller has a lot with a few cars available for sale so, the man saw no cause for alarm in purchasing a vehicle from him. The police officer makes a report, and the forged vehicle is impounded.
The police determine that other older vehicles on the lot had forged VIN numbers as well. The seller of the forged vehicles is arrested and charged with four counts of forgery of a vehicle identification number. The buyer also files a small claim in district court against the seller’s lot “Sam’s Used Car Lot” in the amount of $1,250.00 as the vehicle had been impounded by the local police department.
New York State Penal Law 170.70 – Illegal Possession of a Vehicle Identification Number
This law is when a person illegally possesses a forged vehicle identification number. When you possess a vehicle identification number that has been removed from a vehicle or part of a vehicle, you are guilty of illegally possessing a VIN number.
You are also guilty of Penal Law 170.70 when you illegal possess a vehicle or vehicle part that has a plate sticker or label with an altered, defaced, covered, destroyed, or changed vehicle identification number. Additionally, you are guilty of illegally possessing a vehicle identification number when you possess a plate, sticker, or label for a vehicle identification number that has not been placed by the manufacturer.
Illegal possession of a vehicle identification number is also a class E felony in the State of New York. Conviction of a felony in New York State can be punishable by fines, imprisonment, and/or restitution. Additionally, forging a vehicle identification number could result in a civil action taken against you by the buyer of a vehicle.
- Don is hanging out at 2 a.m. in a parking lot with some friends. While the friends are leaning against the wall of the parking lot, another man in the group, named Stan is stopped by the police.
The police advise that men fitting their description had just pick-pocketed the wallet of a man in a bar the hour before. Being that Don and his friends were known as petty criminals in the local area, the police ask to search Don and his friends.
Don knowingly has some illegal items on his person attempts to run, but, the police immediately catch him. The police commence searching the men and immediately begin finding illegal items on the group of men.
When Don is searched, the police officer finds metal plates in his jacket pocket that contain vehicle identification numbers. When the officer asks why Don is carrying these items on him, Don replies he “doesn’t know where they came from.”
Don is charged with five counts of illegal possession of vehicle identification numbers. When the police officer gets back to the police station, he has the vehicle identification numbers checked.
The officers concluded that two of the vehicle identification numbers come back to salvaged vehicles, and one of the numbers come back to a stolen vehicle. Upon investigation of Don, the officers determine that Don had previously been convicted of the same crime and was guilty of running a “chop shop” two towns over. Don may be convicted of penal law 170.70 and is sentenced to two years in prison and a $1,400.00 fine
New York State Penal Law 170.71 – Illegal Possession of a Vehicle Identification Number; Presumptions
It is when a person knowingly possesses a vehicle or vehicle part, as according to New York State – Penal Law 170.70. When a person possesses said vehicles or vehicle parts in any combination of five, you are guilty of New York State Penal Law 170.71. None are which are attached to their assigned vehicle.
Illegal Possession of a Vehicle Identification Number, Presumptions is a class e felony in the State of New York. Conviction of a felony in New York State can be punishable by fines, imprisonment, and/or restitution. Additionally, forging a vehicle identification number could result in a civil action taken against you by the buyer of a vehicle
- Jack and Sally are driving on the expressway in a van. Jack is driving intoxicated after several beers at the bar. Other drivers on the expressway observe Jack is driving over the lines and fear he will cause an accident.
Jack is reported by the concerned drivers, and a local officer pulls over Jacks van. The officer immediately observes the couple is intoxicated, and Jack is asked to exit the van. Sally decides to exit the vehicle as well. As the officer instructs Sally to wait inside the vehicle, she is stumbling alongside the van.
The officer then notices several vehicle parts inside the van. When Sally is questioned on why they possess various car parts, Sally immediately tells the officer that they belong to Jack.
Jack painstakingly agrees the vehicle parts do belong to him. Upon visual inspection of the parts, the officer writes down a few of the visible VIN numbers after comments made by Sally seemed suspicious.
The officer calls in two of the numbers of the car parts and the officer at the station confirms the parts were removed off stolen vehicles. Jack and Sally are both charged with five counts of theft, illegal possession of parts containing stolen vehicle identification numbers, and Jack is also charged with driving while intoxicated.