Californians are being urged to be on the lookout for used car sellers who are luring unsuspecting consumers into buying stolen vehicles online.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has issued the warning which it says is fueled by a shortage of new vehicles for sale.

Criminals exploiting the vehicle shortage steal a vehicle, alter the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), create a fraudulent certificate of title, and advertise the car for sale online through sites such as Facebook Marketplace or Offer Up.

The DMV says car thieves use several tactics to encourage the buyer to take quick action, including listing the stolen vehicles well below market value, discounting the sale by thousands of dollars without negotiation, and telling potential buyers they have received several offers.

“With an increase in stolen vehicles being sold online, we are reminding consumers that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is,” said DMV Director Steve Gordon. “Californians planning to make a large cash purchase of a vehicle from someone they do not know should proceed with caution.”

The DMV has issued the following advice to help drivers avoid inadvertently purchasing a stolen vehicle:

  • Obtain an online VIN history report or ask the seller to provide you with a report and compare the information to the vehicle being offered for sale
  • Compare the name of the owner on the title (pink slip) to the name of the seller
  • Insist on meeting the seller at a local DMV field office to complete the sale and vehicle transfer
  • Meet at a local law enforcement location to verify the vehicle before the transaction
  • Take note of the seller’s car and attempt to confirm their identity