Identity thieves are getting wilier. That's costing dealers big bucks, say vendors of security equipment.
Computer technology enables crooks to present false identification documents that look real. Using such a ruse to take test drives, some thieves exchange a vehicle's key for a different one. They return to the dealership later to steal the vehicle.
Other thieves use phony identities to finance a vehicle. If they complete the transaction, the dealer can be forced to pay off the loan balance. Even if the cars are repossessed, their values decline and dealers must sell them at a loss.
The typical dealership encounters customers with bogus identities in two transactions a year, estimates Wilson Technologies Inc. of Auburn Hills, Mich. The security software company serves 60 dealers.
A thief posed as a surgeon at Les Stanford Chevrolet two years ago. He arrived at the Dearborn, Mich., dealership wearing surgical scrubs and a fake hospital identification badge.
Dealership employees spotted the charade and called police before the man could take delivery of the vehicle he wanted.
In another case a thief got away with a $59,000 van conversion, says Paul Stanford, the store's owner. Stanford recovered the vehicle but found its odometer had been rolled back.
"I had to sell it as a used vehicle with unknown mileage," Stanford says. That cut the value of the vehicle in half, he adds.
Wally Schwartz, president of Superior Pontiac-Buick-GMC in Dearborn, Mich., says identity thieves hit his store five times in six months before he tightened security several years ago.
It took 18 months to get one of the stolen vehicles back. And it cost Schwartz more than $1,000 in repossession expenses, he says.
"This happens in spurts," Schwartz adds. "Word gets out on the street, and you get more thefts unless you tighten up procedures really quick."