VIN cloning scheme bilked South Philadelphia man out more than $30K

Dan Iero met the seller in Deptford to make the transaction in cash, but a few days later the sale imploded.

ByChad Pradelli and Cheryl Mettendorf WPVI logo
Wednesday, January 24, 2024
VIN cloning scheme bilked South Philadelphia man out of $30,000
VIN cloning scheme bilked South Philadelphia man out of $30,000

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A South Philadelphia man turned to the Action News Investigative Team after he unknowingly purchased a stolen vehicle.

It turned out to be part of a sophisticated scheme called "VIN cloning," where police said thieves take a VIN from a legally owned vehicle and then transfer it to a similar stolen one.

It cost Dan Iero thousands of dollars.

Iero, who runs a peer-to-peer rental company online, said he was looking to add a larger SUV to his fleet when he came across an ad on Facebook Marketplace.

"I was able to do my homework on the VIN before I even met him. Everything lined up with no red flags. It was a clean truck," he said.

The 2021 Ford Expedition was advertised for $31,000. Iero met the seller in Deptford, Gloucester County to make the transaction in cash.

He said he double-checked the VIN on both the windshield and door jamb, which matched the seller's title. He then even registered the SUV and received his new title from PennDOT.

"Just everything lined up and that's the scary part," said Iero.

But a few days later the sale imploded.

"I get a call from an Avis rental car security," Iero said. "He is saying, 'Do not buy this vehicle, it's stolen, and it was never returned to us. It's our vehicle.'"

Iero said Avis rental car told him they tracked their stolen vehicle to his South Philadelphia home. He asked them to provide their vehicle's VIN but it didn't match.

Confused, he went to a local dealership and asked them to hook the Expedition up to a computer to read the SUV's onboard diagnostics.

"It spit it out the VIN number to what Avis told me that they were looking for," he said.

Detective Sergeant Bob Jones with Deptford police told the Investigative Team the scammers got a new title for the SUV in Wisconsin with a fraudulent VIN. They then posted the stolen vehicle online for sale in the Delaware Valley.

"They (Avis) had a GPS on this vehicle," said Det. Jones. "They were able to see this vehicle was rented in Alabama and it showed up in Deptford."

Jones said the scheme was multi-layered.

"Obviously, you have a vast network of individuals that were part of this," he said.

Maurice Bertrand, 36, was charged with theft and vehicle fraud in connection with Iero's case.

Pennsylvania State Police Lieutenant Adam Reed also warned that unsuspecting used car buyers in the Keystone State are getting duped even after checking the vehicle's car history report.

"It is something we are seeing a lot of unfortunately," said Lt. Reed.

Lt. Reed could not say how many cases are reported each year but warned Philadelphia is ground zero for VIN scams in the state.

He said it is often hard for a car buyer to know the transaction is fraudulent until it's too late.

As for Iero, he is still out of the cash.

"I couldn't keep the vehicle because I didn't want legal actions against me. Or even worse, a guest that I have in the vehicle. So I handed in the vehicle," said Iero.

Action News reached out to Avis rental car about Iero's case. A company spokesperson would only say that it "used an internal process to recover the vehicle when it wasn't returned."

Police also wanted to pass along one universal tip for car buyers looking to buy from a private seller: never pay for a vehicle in cash.

Another good safety measure is to purchase a diagnostic tool scanner, which costs about $25. It will read the onboard computer system and show the vehicle's true information, including the VIN, miles and other key data.