How to avoid buying a stolen used car and protect yourself if you do

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, over 750,000 cars are reported stolen in the United States each year.

Even though about half of those cars eventually get recovered, there’s a lot of hot metal left over that ends up on the black market.

Many of the cars that slip through the cracks are chopped up and sold for parts, while others are smuggled overseas. However, more than a few end up in the classifieds as used cars with bogus background stories.

Since Los Angeles region sees the most thefts of any metro area in the United States, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department has put out a list of six tips avoid having your money stolen and your ‘new’ car returned to its rightful owner.

1 - Prices that sound too low probably are. Crooks are looking for a quick buck, and often let stolen vehicles go for well below market rates. Cut rates = red flags.

2 - If there’s only one set of keys, you should ask where the other is. Thieves don’t always go to the trouble and expense of making phony spares, especially with today's expensive remote key fobs.

3 - Be wary of any sketchy-looking documents and check closely that the names and dates look correct.

4 – Regardless of what information is provided by the seller, you should do your own Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) search with a government agency or vehicle history report service to get a better look at the car’s background and make sure everything matches up.

5 – Keep copies of all of your digital communications with the seller and any paperwork involved in the transaction. If possible, get a copy of their ID and screenshot the original advertisement, too. Even if everything is fake, these are all valuable clues for investigators if things go wrong.

6 – Don’t do it alone. Whether you found the car on Craigslist, or a flyer stuck to a telephone pole, it’s smart to bring someone with you when you go to check it out. Better yet, have the seller meet you near a police station for an extra level of security. Websites like and offer listings of departments that are happy to accommodate.