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Buyer beware: How to spot a stolen car when car shopping

It's important to buy cars from reliable sellers.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — You may be on the hunt for a car and with dealerships low on new vehicles you may have to go the private dealer route. But how can you tell if the vehicle you are looking at is stolen? 

The National Insurance Crime Bureau found there was a 9.2% increase in auto thefts between 2019 and 2020. 

“Preliminary reports indicate a sharp increase in automobile thefts for 2020,” NICB President and CEO David Glawe said. “All indications are 2020 will be the largest theft year in the past decade by a significant margin.”

When buying from a private seller, it's important to keep in mind any red flags. Daniel Irwin with the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South said you should be cautious if the price is too good to be true. 

"If the car is valued at a certain price and they are selling it for way low something is going to be wrong with the car," Irwin said.

Often car scams happen through websites like Craigslist, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace. 

Irwin suggests meeting the seller in person and making sure you see the car before handing over any money. Also, have a trusted mechanic inspect the car. 

"Don’t go alone," Irwin said. "Have someone else because you may be focused on buying that car and that might be all you’re focused on and you’re not able to see the red flags because you’re focused on that car."

The most important thing is making sure you can get the car's title and it matches the seller's information. 

"You need to verify the owner's driver's license matches the information on the cars title," Irwin said. "That’s really important and when you do that you can also make sure it’s not stolen." 

NICB has a free VIN check tool to determine whether a vehicle has been declared an unrecovered stolen or salvage vehicle. You can find it here