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During the last few days Sugey Lamela, from the local Telemundo tv station in PR, presented an investigative report on the risks of buying used cars through online classified ad portals wherein the ads placed by third parties do not disclose the vehicle identification number (VIN).

The report suggested that scammers frequently do that to avoid others from tracking down the history of the vehicle (if the unit is legit or previously involved in accidents, infractions, crimes, etc).

Well, buyers beware. Even if a VIN is shown in an ad, it can be a fake one. So how could customers be protected if they still want to use those online services?

One easy way: run the VIN through a VIN Numbers Validator tool.

It is always a good idea to check the same number through similar tools from different online sources (preferably from one provided by your local police/MV department or a reputed car insurance company), just in case the scammers have online their own faked validators. How could this be done? Keep reading.

Buyers Beware. A valid VIN can be constructed from an invalid one by simply replacing a check digit with the expected check value.

This is easy to demonstrate with our tool: 1G4AH59H75G118341 must be an invalid VIN as its check digit is 7 when it should be 4. So changing the check digit to 4 produces the valid VIN 1G4AH59H45G118341.

In general, one can change any character from a VIN, try to validate the new VIN, and if it does not pass the validation, replace its check digit with the predicted check value. This exercise simply demonstrates that one cannot just trust online ads displaying VINs. That a VIN is valid does not mean that it belongs to a legit vehicle. Once a VIN passes a validation test, the prospective buyer should research the records associated to the vehicle he is interested in.