Criminals openly selling stolen cars, and getting away with it

Criminals are exploiting the vehicle registration system to sell stolen cars without penalty, says the car review website

Editor Clive Matthew-Wilson says:

“Thanks to an incredibly slack vehicle registration system, criminals are stealing vehicles, then simply going online and transferring the ownership. They then sell these stolen vehicles and walk away with the cash.”

“Worse, the police seem largely uninterested in catching these criminals.”

“Many people will be shocked to learn that, when you’re changing the ownership on a vehicle, there’s no legal requirement for you to front up in person and show some identification.”

“Therefore, criminals are free to simply steal your car, go online and transfer the vehicle into their name or the name of an associate. They need to supply someone's driver’s licence number, but that’s all. These criminals are then free to sell your car and move on. Yet, the police usually assume that the new registered owner is the legal owner, often without any further investigation. This recently resulted in the police wrongfully arresting the owner of a vehicle then failing to arrest the thieves who had stolen it.

Matthew-Wilson claims that the police are often “worse than slack” when it comes to investigating all kinds of vehicle thefts. He gave the example of Marlborough mum Karen Mcleod, who helped her son buy a $9500 Mazda pickup, only to have the vehicle seized by the police a few months later. Aside from seizing the vehicle, the police seem to have lost interest in catching the criminals, despite knowing the vehicle’s full ownership history.

Mcleod is angry, because she went to a lot of trouble to make sure the vehicle was legitimate before handing over her son’s money.

“We purchased the pickup in January 2021 with a VTNZ WOF, from the home of the man who apparently owned it. We did all the usual checks, including an online data check. The vehicle’s number plates did not show up as stolen because they’d been swapped from another pickup."

"Later that year my son decided to sell the pickup. A young man and his dad took the pickup for a pre-purchase inspection at a Blenheim testing station. The mechanics discovered the vehicle had been stolen, called the police and it was immediately impounded.”

“The police were no help to us whatsoever. They know who the seller was, but I’ve heard nothing from them in months."

“Ultimately, my son is at the bottom of the chain and has totally lost out. Now he’s lost both the ute and the money he paid for it. He was only 18 and had saved hard for that money.”

 Matthew-Wilson has heard of dozens of similar stories. He says it’s a ‘no-brainer’ to sort out these scams: 

“First, there needs to be a legal requirement that the ownership of a vehicle can only be changed by the registered owner, who must provide photo ID at a physical location, such as a Post Office or AA centre. Second, the police need to get off their backsides and investigate these cases. Otherwise, the police and government are both going to lose the trust of the public.”

“At present, any crook can simply steal a vehicle, change the ownership online, sell the vehicle and keep the money. The simple fact is, in many cases these crooks get away with it, because the police are either too busy or too slack to do their job.”