Web site turns up heat on hot cars

In an effort to combat the nearly $8 billion auto fraud and theft business, everyone can now find a car's title history, odometer data and basic vehicle with a new online service backed by the US Department of Justice.

The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, or NMVTIS, which has been in the works in some form or another since 1997, is available now and will be accessible through third party, fee-for-service Web sites, the DOJ said. Law officers can access the systems directly, the DOJ said.

The driving ideas behind the systems are to prevent stolen motor vehicles, including clones, from entering into interstate commerce, protect states and consumers from fraud, reduce the use of stolen vehicles for illicit purposes including fundraising for criminal enterprises, and provide consumer protection from unsafe vehicles.

Along with implementing NMVTIS, the DOJ has outlined various responsibilities and reporting requirements for states, auto recyclers, junk yards and salvage yards, and insurance carriers. For example, the system will require insurance companies and salvage yards to report vehicles that are severely damaged or totaled, and consumers will have access to such information as odometer readings and theft records.

In research conducted by the Logistics Management Institute, the system could save taxpayers between $4 and $11 billion each year.

The system works by verifying vehicle and title information, brand information applied to a vehicle by any State, and whether a vehicle has been reported stolen - all prior to issuing a new title. The Vehicle Identification Number) or VIN is checked against a national pointer file which provides the last jurisdiction that issued the vehicle's title and requests details about the vehicle from that jurisdiction. This data verification reduces the issuance of fraudulent titles and odometer fraud. Once the inquiring jurisdiction receives the information, it can decide whether to issue a title; if a new title is issued, NMVTIS can electronically notify the last titling jurisdiction that another jurisdiction has issued a new title. The former jurisdiction can then inactivate its title record. This process lets jurisdictions purge inactive titles electronically.

But it's not perfect. Currently, 36 States are involved in NMVTIS - which represents almost 75 % of cars registered I the US. But obviously to be truly effective all 50 states need to be involved.

According to the Automotive Service Association, the implementation of NMVTIS stems from the 2008 court case, Public Citizen Inc., Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, and Consumer Action v. Michael Mukasey, Attorney General of the United States. Public Citizen filed the suit to fight for a used car database that was established by Congress in 1992 in the Anti-Car Theft Act. However, the DOJ had never made the system available to the public.

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