Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist

How to avoid becoming a victim of vehicle cloning

Buying a cloned vehicle could result in you losing both the vehicle and the money you paid for it.

If you know what to look out for, it’s unlikely you will become a victim of vehicle cloning.

The cost of living and heightened interest rate hikes means that many prospective car buyers consider the second-hand market to buy a car.

According to a 2020 report by the South African Insurance Crime Bureau (SAICB), vehicle cloning is a growing problem in South Africa, with an estimated 3 000 to 5 000 cases reported each year. The report also suggests that vehicle cloning is becoming more sophisticated, with criminals using high-quality counterfeit documents and sophisticated cloning techniques to make the stolen vehicles look legitimate.

The report revealed that Gauteng is the epicentre of vehicle cloning in South Africa, accounting for around 70% of all reported cases. Luxury SUVs, bakkies and sedans are the most commonly cloned types of vehicles.

What is vehicle cloning?

Vehicle cloning is a type of vehicle fraud where a criminal copies the identity of a legitimate vehicle and applies it to a stolen or illegally obtained vehicle.

This is done by swapping the licence plates, VIN numbers and other identifying information from the legitimate vehicle to the cloned vehicle. The goal is to make the stolen or illegally obtained vehicle appear to be legitimate, which makes it easier to sell or use for criminal activity, says Hermanus van der Linde, CEO of IntegriSure Brokers.

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Consequences of having a cloned vehicle

“Once a cloned vehicle has been identified in your possession, the insurance cover that you took out on the vehicle becomes null and void. The vehicle is confiscated and there is no possibility of retrieving the money that you have already paid for it.”

Unfortunately, victims of vehicle cloning are usually the ones who end up paying for this highly lucrative crime. Vehicle cloning can have serious consequences for consumers, including financial loss, legal issues and safety risks.

“We recently had a heart-breaking situation where a client contacted us in tears indicating that the authorities contacted her and said she had to hand over her vehicle as it was identified as a cloned vehicle.

“She enquired if she had any grounds for submitting a claim and we unfortunately had to inform her that she did not and that we would have to cancel the cover on the vehicle with immediate effect. In addition, regrettably, the premiums she previously paid were in vain.

“This is definitely not a situation you would want to find yourself in and I urge consumers to be aware of the risks and to take steps to protect themselves when buying a used car,” Van der Linde says.

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Tips to avoid vehicle cloning

He shares these tips for consumers to help them avoid becoming victims of vehicle cloning:

  • Check the VIN number: The VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) is a unique identifier for every vehicle. Check the VIN on the car’s registration document and compare it to the VIN on the car itself. If they do not match, it is a sign that the vehicle may be cloned.
  • Look for signs of tampering: Check the vehicle’s license plates and make sure they are securely attached. Look for signs of tampering or damage around the license plate area, such as scratches or tool marks. Also, look for signs that the VIN has been tampered with or replaced.
  • Do a history check: Use a reputable vehicle history check service to verify the car’s history, including its ownership history and whether it has been reported stolen or written off.
  • Trust your instincts: If a deal seems too good to be true or the seller seems evasive or reluctant to provide information, rather walk away.
  • Buy from a reputable dealer: If possible, buy from a reputable dealer who has a good reputation and who can provide documentation and history for the vehicle.

“It is important that consumers protect themselves and take the necessary precautions to prevent falling victim to vehicle cloning and its associated risks,” Van der Linde says.  

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