Beware of buying an RV with a bogus VIN number

Beware of buying an RV with a bogus VIN number

Crooks are getting lower than snake’s bellies of late. One of the latest scams that affects RVers hales from Canada. It seems nasty crooks are stealing RVs, modifying the VIN plates, and then selling the stolen trailers on Kijiji. Yes, this is Canada, but can the crooks in the Lower 48 be far behind? Here are some tips to protect yourself when buying a trailer.

First, what’s Kijiji? Up in Canada, Kijiji is a “kind-of-like” CraigsList Internet classified ad outfit. The outfit is owned by EBay, and is quite popular for selling used items and moving people into rental homes.

Now, onto the VIN crook system. It’s not clear how, but evidently the criminal element has found a way to cook up VIN numbers that look real enough, but don’t match VINs currently in use. After they’ve obtained a stolen trailer, they make up a suitable fake VIN, then attach a new VIN plate with the cooked-up VIN number on the rig.

One RV dealer in Alberta got a call from the local police, warning him of the scam. News spreads fast, and now the RV Dealers Association of Canada is warning dealers to be very cautious when buying to taking trade-in RVs. What’s good for them is good for the RV buying public.

How to keep from getting a bum RV? Cross-check the VIN numbers. Compare paperwork VIN numbers to VIN tags, and also to other VIN numbers built into any trailer or fifth wheel you’re considering purchasing. Where do you look? Sad to say, there’s no standardized place for a VIN to be located, but here are some places to start looking.

On many travel trailers, the factory stamps either a complete 17 digit VIN, or at least part of the VIN on the trailer tongue or on the frame rail leading up to the hitch. On older units you may find it stamped on the tongue under the propane tank tray. At times the VIN may be obscured by paint or rust, particularly if you’re looking at an older unit. For reference, if you think you’ve found the VIN but can’t make it out clearly, an electric drill equipped with a wire wheel will clear off oxidation and built-up paint and make a VIN stand out clearly. Of course, even a legitimate seller may get a bit antsy when you pull out a wire brush, but that’s the way to clearly see it.

Some fifth-wheel manufacturers stamp the VIN onto the fifth wheel pin box. On other towed units you might find it tack welded on the frame underneath the rig. Look too, for a plate with the number stamped on it, welded or otherwise affixed to the frame.

In all newer rigs, the VIN number should also be indicated on the paperwork that shows weights and specifications. Often this certificate is glued on the inside of a cabinet in the kitchen or utility area. Be suspicious if the certificate is completely gone, or if it looks “too new.” If it looks hinky, get nervous.

All of these VIN numbers should match up to one another. If there’s a discrepancy, hang onto your checkbook.

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