Vehicle information experts HPI and the UK's Greater Manchester Police (GMP) put an end to a criminal gang who stole vehicles to order and sold them to unsuspecting buyers.The police operation resulted in two arrests and recovered over R7.2-million in stolen vehicles. The gang used "cloned" identities to make stolen vehicles appear to be legitimate before selling them via online market places, such as Auto Trader. IDENTITY THEFT FOR CARSCar cloning is the vehicle equivalent of identity fraud as criminals will steal a vehicle and give it a new identity copied from a similar vehicle already on the road. The GMP discovered that the gang used stolen documents, road tax discs, fraudulent MOT certificates and receipts and even fabricated vehicle history checks. The gang used personal details of people to help create a fake history for the vehicles, making the scam very hard to spot.Kristian Welch, consumer director for HPI, said: “This gang was using every trick in the book to dupe innocent used car buyers, but HPI joined forces with Greater Manchester Police and a number of other industry names to catch the criminals red-handed. This case highlights the risks consumers face."Many buyers don’t realise that if they buy a clone they stand to lose the car and their money, as a stolen vehicle will be returned to its rightful owner." When car criminals are this sophisticated, it can be really difficult not to fall victim to their methods. Here are three effective rules consumers should apply when buying privately:1. Always check the history of the vehicle and make sure you view it at the registered keepers address (as shown on the V5/logbook). Buyers should ensure VIN/chassis numbers on vehicles match each other.2. Know your vehicle's market value. If you are paying less than 70% of the market price for a vehicle, then you should be on your guard. No seller will want to lose money on their sale. In one case an HPI customer paid R140 000 cash for a vehicle valued at R268 000. In this case the vehicle was later proven to be a clone.3. Don’t pay with a substantial amount of cash. Some cloners will take a bankers draft as payment, because the cash part is sufficient profit without ever cashing the bankers draft. Most crooks selling cloned cars would rather walk away from a sale than take a payment that could be traced back to them. Have you been the victim of car cloning or dodgy vehicle sales? Email us and your story could be published on Wheels24.