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Your car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) is essential information. But why? Let’s discuss the VIN and everything you need to know about it.

Understanding the Importance of Your VIN

The VIN is essential in different scenarios. Here are a few scenarios where your VIN is important.

Buying a Used Car

When you purchase a used car, you’ll need to get the details on your vehicle’s history to ensure you don’t end up purchasing a lemon, which is a car that has multiple safety defects that prevent the vehicle from being driven.

If you’re purchasing a used car from a dealership or a car-buying website, they may provide vehicle history reports. However, if you’re purchasing a car from an individual, you’ll need to obtain the report on your own. To get the car’s history, you’ll need to provide the VIN. You can use the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s VIN Check Tool to determine if a vehicle has been reported as stolen or has a salvage title.

Vehicle Recalls

If you’re curious to know if your vehicle has safety recalls, or if a vehicle you’re interested in person has any major recalls, you can use the VIN to find out this information. You can use the Recall Tool provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. You can obtain information about a vehicle within the past 15 calendar years.

Stolen Vehicle

If your vehicle is stolen, it’s good to know the VIN of the vehicle in case the car’s parts are also stolen. Law enforcement officials can use the VIN to help identify and recover stolen vehicles and their parts.

The VIN can also be used to:

  • Determine the wealth of a vehicle, and vital information, such as the car’s engine type and original product details.
  • Determine if the vehicle is part of a recall or how often the vehicle has been purchased
  • Find out the car’s serial number, year, model, where it was assembled, and the country in which it was made
  • Help with maintenance and repairs
  • Help protect a vehicle from thieves

The Components of a VIN

The VIN is composed of a unique 17-character code. This code is assigned to a vehicle by the automaker. This unique number provides the following information about a car:

  • Model year
  • Country of origin
  • Serial number
  • Where the vehicle was assembled

The VIN can be used to determine a vehicle’s history and verify its identity, and it can also help you learn about recalls and accidents the vehicle may have been involved in.

Unlocking a Vehicle’s History

The VIN may appear like a bunch of random numbers, but these numbers tell your vehicle’s story. This 17-character item is stamped on your car’s dashboard and acts as the vehicle’s fingerprint. Let’s take a look at what these characters mean.

  • Characters 1-3: identify the car’s manufacturer
  • Characters 4-8: an outline of the car’s body style, engine type, model, and more
  • Character 9: a code that is completed by the manufacturer to confirm the VIN’s accuracy
  • Character 10: tells the car’s model year
  • Character 11: tells which plant assembled the vehicle
  • Characters 12-17: the car’s serial number (for high-volume manufacturers)

Risks Associated with Sharing Your VIN

Sharing your VIN is a risk because a lot of information can be determined by this 17- 17-character item. The most common risks associated with sharing your VIN are identity theft, fraud, and VIN cloning. Scammers can use your VIN for cloning, creating a false car title, and selling a stolen vehicle.

What Information Can Be Obtained from a VIN?

The VIN tells your car’s story by revealing specific information, such as the country or region where it was manufactured, technical attributes, trim level, and the factory code that made the car.

VINs can also reveal the vehicle owner’s name. In this situation, if you are currently paying a loan or leasing the vehicle, the lender’s name will also be associated with the car’s VIN. It is possible for someone to find out the car owner’s address from the VIN, but this is not information that is private and can be found on various people search sites.

Although you can remove a lot of personal information from the internet, there’s always the possibility that someone will need a copy of your public records. These records can include information that pertains to vehicle registration and taxes you’ve paid as a vehicle owner and driver.

Can Someone Find My Current Address Using the VIN?

Yes. Anyone can search through public records using a VIN and find your address. However, if you’re meeting a potential buyer in person, likely, you’ve already given them your address to come and look at the vehicle.

If you’re selling your vehicle to a dealer, they’ll need to know your address for documentation purposes, especially if you’re trading in your vehicle for a new one. Your address can also be determined using your vehicle’s license plate.

How VIN Thieves Operate

According to the FBI, over 700,000 vehicles were stolen nationwide in 2019. The number of stolen vehicles has increased tremendously because there is a more profitable way to make money stealing cars. This new method is VIN cloning.

How does it work? It’s simpler than you may think. A thief stills a car. To prevent detection that the car is stolen, they will take a VIN from a car that is a similar make and model, and create counterfeit VIN plates that will be used on the stolen vehicle.

When and How to Safely Share Your VIN

There’s a time and place to share your VIN. The VIN is like your car’s social security number. You wouldn’t advertise your SSN on different websites or go around handing out copies of your social security card. The same goes for your VIN.

When to Share Your VIN

If you intend to sell your vehicle, the potential buyer will likely ask for the car’s VIN. In this situation, it’s safe to give out the VIN under limited circumstances. If you’re selling your vehicle to a dealership, it’s okay to provide the VIN. However, you don’t want to put the VIN in an ad or online. It’s best to provide your VIN in person to serious buyers only.

It’s also okay to share your VIN when you’re applying for auto insurance. Providing the VIN will help the insurance provider ensure you are insuring the correct vehicle on your policy and obtain information about your vehicle to provide an accurate quote.

How to Share Your VIN

There are different ways you can share your VIN. However, you need to be careful when you’re sharing this information, whether it’s on a platform, in person, verbally, or in any other way. Here are different ways you can share the VIN with another individual.

Provide the VIN in Your Listing

Providing the VIN in your car listing is risky. However, some platforms you use may require users of the platform to verify their profiles by phone and email. While providing the VIN in your listing is easy, you’re also opening the door or opportunity for a mishap, such as VIN cloning.

Showing the VIN in Your Photos

A lot of people will agree that providing the VIN in photos is an effective way to share this information. Most people are willing to take the time to scroll through photos rather than spend time reading text.

Sharing the VIN Verbally

You can also share the VIN verbally. All serious and potential buyers can meet with you in person and you can disclose the VIN then. You can also exchange numbers to discuss the vehicle if you prefer not to meet in person.

Providing the VIN in the Contact

If you’re not comfortable giving the VIN verbally when you start screening buyers, you can provide the VIN during the final deal when you sign the contract. You can include the VIN before the buyer signs at the bottom of the contract.

Choosing the Right Platform for Sharing VIN Information

Choosing the right platform for sharing VIN information can be trickier than you anticipated. Before you upload information and pictures, here are a few things you may want to consider.


Before you spend time uploading information about your vehicle, make sure the platform is secure. One way you’ll know the website is secure is the lock on the search/address bar. You can also check the website for security certificates. You should also consider profile privacy. With profile privacy, only specific users can view your profile and see your ads.

Ease of Use and Functionality

You also want to make sure the website is easy to use and has a variety of features. More features mean functionality, but not necessarily ease of use, so you want to make sure you have ease of use and functionality. A website that’s easy to use means users can find what they’re looking for with little to no hassles, which means your ad will likely be seen.


Features are great to have, especially when you’re looking for something specific. The website doesn’t necessarily need to have hundreds of features, but having the right features makes a difference, such as a search functionality where users can provide keywords for what they’re looking for, price range, and similar features that will help your car be discovered.

Using a Specific Platform

Facebook, Craigslist, and similar platforms are good to use when you’re selling a vehicle, but it may be best to use a platform that was specifically intended for selling a vehicle. These websites will likely have the tools and features needed for buyers and sellers.

Verifying the Legitimacy of Buyers

Since you’ll be using online platforms, it’s a good idea to verify the legitimacy of the buyers to minimize the chance of becoming a victim of fraud.

Require a Valid Credit Card

Depending on how sophisticated the platform is, you may be able to accept credit and debit card payments for your vehicle. If so, require the buyer to use a valid credit card to ensure the buyer is an actual person and that their payment will be honored.

Research the Buyer’s Reputation

Some people are DIY gurus and love taking on projects, whether it’s fixing up cars or something else, there’s nothing like a project to keep them busy in their spare time. Check out the buyer’s profile and make a note of their reviews and feedback from previous buyers.

Red Flags to Watch Out For

Take Caution with Mobile Payments

You shouldn’t accept mobile payments from people you don’t know, and in this instance, if you’re not expecting a payment, decline the mobile payment if you don’t know the sender. A lot of scammers prefer to use the mobile payment method by sending you a fake payment notification through an app. They hope that they will receive the goods before you realize it’s a scam.

Be Careful Accepting Checks

Some scammers may like to use checks. In this scenario, if you are sent a check that’s more than the selling price, don’t accept it. Scammers will often give you a check that’s more than the selling price in hopes that you will deposit the check and send them the difference. They will give you a fake check, and if you deposit it into your account, the money will show in your account balance within 3 to 5 days. However, since this check is fake, you may incur fees and possible penalties. The best thing to do in this situation is to turn the check in to your bank in person and follow any necessary procedures.

Protecting Your Personal Information During the Selling Process

You need to make sure you protect your personal information during the selling process of your vehicle. There’s no guaranteed way to ensure someone doesn’t steal your information. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. However, you can take the following steps to give yourself a layer of protection and peace of mind during the selling process.

Monitoring Your Credit and Identity After the Sale

It’s a good idea to monitor your credit and identity after you sell your vehicle. You can take any of the following steps to monitor your credit.

Check Your Credit Report Regularly

Did you know you can obtain a free copy of your credit report from each of the major credit bureaus each year? It’s true! Keeping an eye on your credit report can help you detect unauthorized activity or errors on your credit report. You also have the option of signing up for credit monitoring services that will notify you if there are any changes in your credit report.

Monitor Your Bank and Credit Card Accounts

You’ll also want to keep an eye on your bank and credit card accounts for fraudulent charges and transactions. If you don’t recognize any of the charges, contact your credit card or bank company immediately.

Be Cautious of Scams

Phishing is a common scam that occurs more often than we would like to admit. Scammers will try to trick you into providing them with your information by posing as a legitimate organization. You need to be cautious of phone calls and emails that ask for personal information and don’t give out your social security number.

Consider a Fraud Alert or Credit Freeze

If you suspect fraudulent activity on your credit or bank account, you may want to consider placing a credit freeze or fraud alert on your credit report. Placing a credit freeze on your credit report prevents unwanted access to your report without your permission.

Report Suspicious Activity

If you notice suspicious activity on your bank account or credit report, you must report it to the appropriate authorities immediately. Make sure you have the time and date of the suspicious activity you want to report. It’s also a good idea to know where the transaction was made, such as the store or other location where your card was used.

If you suspect VIN-related fraud, you should take the following steps:

  • Gather all the evidence you need to prove that your identity was stolen and used to purchase the vehicle
  • File a police report
  • Contact your local DMV branch or the equivalent in your state
  • Freeze your credit report to prevent further fraud
  • File an identity theft report with the FTC
  • Contact any impacted lenders
  • Consider signing up for identity theft protection services

Reporting VIN Fraud

You can contact the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) to report fraud by calling (800) 835-6422, or by submitting a form. This non-profit organization works with law enforcement agencies to prevent and investigate different types of fraud, including vehicle theft and insurance fraud.

You just learned how important your VIN is and the steps you can take to minimize your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft and VIN cloning. Stay safe out there!