How to avoid being a victim of car cloning

What you need to know:

A mechanic can help you and use a diagnostic computer to confirm the VIN or chassis number of the car in question. Any signs of alteration or tampering should call for further scrutiny or withdrawal of intention to purchase.

In March 2016, Detective Dan Duicker of the Edmonton Police Auto Theft Unit warned used car buyers in Edmonton, Canada, about the prevalence of cloned cars from criminals and car thieves who altered car identities in garages called ‘chop shops’. Cloned cars were impounded on a weekly basis and were hard to identify since the duplication is detailed using legitimate looking VIN plates and decal stickers.

Car cloning is vehicle identity fraud or theft. It is when a vehicle’s registration number plates, vehicle identification number (VIN) or chassis number are fraudulently transferred to another car. It is a global and local criminal or fraudulent vice that has been prevalent for a while. Cloning cars is done by fraudsters who rebuild unworthy cars with components and registration from accident wrecks.

Cloning is also used to disguise and sell stolen cars as legitimate ones, with cloned cars being sold to unsuspecting buyers on the Internet or locally by unscrupulous car dealers.

In Uganda, the sale of stolen cars with identity theft or cloning has been prevalent for some time. On February 16, 2016, the Daily Monitor reported a case where Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) had given back to the British High Commissioner in Uganda 21 luxurious vehicles that had been stolen from the United Kingdom (UK) and shipped to Uganda with false identities.

These vehicles had been tracked to Uganda by the UK’s National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, assisted by Uganda Police and URA Customs. The Uganda Police Force has acknowledged the widespread vice of car cloning or car identity theft.

In August 2022, police spokesperson Fred Enanga posted on the official police website a warning to used car buyers: “For those buying second hand motor vehicles from dealers, we advise them to first check whether the identity of the vehicle has not been changed. Also, ensure the vehicle identification number is the same as the engine numbers before acquiring it.”

Enanga added that the Police Flying Squad Unit had recovered 34 stolen vehicles but were only able to hand over 11 cars to their owners as the 23 impounded cars had to first be verified.


According to, you commit a crime when you buy a cloned car and you will lose your money when the police or customs impound that car.

It is also difficult to buy spare parts for a cloned car from an official dealer. A cloned car may not be technically sound or safe if it has been reassembled using parts salvaged from a car that had been involved in an accident.

Since it is unlawful to buy or possess stolen property locally or imported from abroad, buying a cloned car makes you a criminal. The cloned car can get impounded or confiscated by the police or customs during security or customs checks and you will be prosecuted.  Section 317 of the Uganda Penal Code Act states that receiving or possessing goods stolen inside or outside Uganda is a crime punishable by seven years imprisonment.

You will lose money without the likelihood of compensation. Besides, you will also incur legal fees as you battle in court against conviction for possessing stolen goods. 

Buying spare parts from authorised car dealerships is difficult if you have a cloned car. The appointed car dealers use VIN details to identify the correct parts. If your car’s VIN details are attached to a car with a different engine, the parts technician will not be able to identify correct parts for your car.


Cloned cars may not be technically sound or safe to drive. Because cloned cars are built with salvage parts from an accident wreck or stolen vehicle, the conversion and cannibalisation is likely to be haphazard and unprofessional. This often results in the building of an unreliable car with poor roadworthiness.


You can avoid buying a cloned car by following a few sensible or recommended guidelines:

Choose carefully where or from whom you buy a used car. Consider the reputation or reviews of the website, local used car showroom or freelance car seller. If you are talking to a random car dealer or broker, do a background check and where possible, get a known referral.

Insist on seeing official paper work and have the car registration and VIN independently verified by URA Customs, Ministry of Works registration and licensing department as well as Uganda Police – Interpol directorate. This will help confirm the registration number, VIN or chassis, engine number and registered owner of the car.


If it is a bond or Internet purchase, insist on seeing the auction report, logbook or pre-sale registration logbook, approved Japan Export Vehicle Inspection Centre Co Ltd (JEVIC) pre-shipment technical inspection report and port inspection report. Information should be readily available. The Uganda Interpol provides a used car security check service. Interpol has a regularly updated database of stolen cars from sister agencies around the world.

In May 2018, the then director of Interpol and International Relations, Fred Yiga, advised members of the public who intend to buy used cars to collect as much information as possible about the particular vehicle they are buying for verification by Interpol to avoid losing money as a result of buying a stolen car, which could be impounded.

He further noted that the used car verification cost was Shs15,000, payable in the bank, at the time, and results of the verification took a few minutes. If access to official used car identification and registration documentation is not forthcoming, one should hold back on making a purchase.

Confirm VIN

Scrutinise and compare the VIN or chassis number with the one displayed on the windscreen left bottom corner, engine bay, door pillar or under the driver’s seat on some car models. A mechanic can help you and even use a diagnostic computer to confirm the VIN or chassis number of the car in question.  Any signs of alteration or tampering should call for further scrutiny or withdrawal of intention to purchase.

Too good to be true

Be wary of unusually low prices or good deals. Where possible, try to avoid paying cash for the car. Price deals that are far below the market price should raise red flags. Inquire if you can pay for the used car through bank transfers that are traceable to the seller. When buying a used car locally, try to meet the current owner before paying any money. Often, stolen or cloned cars are auctioned dubiously without the presence of legitimate owners.


Ask for car service or repair history. This will provide information about the car’s health and security. A written repair history can be a useful confirmation of vehicle identity and previous ownership details. When in doubt, ask for the seller’s permission to talk to the garage or service provider. Any hesitation to volunteer information is a red flag.