U.S. Customs Service:

Efforts to Curtail the Exportation of Stolen Vehicles

OSI-99-10: Published: May 12, 1999. Publicly Released: May 20, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Customs Service's efforts to curtail the exportation of stolen vehicles from the United States, focusing on: (1) applicable regulations for exporting used, self-propelled vehicles from the United States; (2) Customs policies and procedures for controlling the export of these vehicles; (3) methods used to illegally export these vehicles; and (4) improvements in operations being considered by Customs.

GAO noted that: (1) at the ports GAO visited, Customs complied with its regulatory procedures for exporting used, self-propelled vehicles by reviewing the documentation of ownership and inspecting the vehicles presented for export to ensure that they were the vehicles described in the documentation; (2) to circumvent Customs vehicle exportation procedures, thieves have used false documents as proof of vehicle ownership; (3) they have also altered vehicle identification numbers (VIN), switched vehicles after inspection of VINs, hidden vehicles in containers, and driven vehicles across border crossings without reporting them; (4) in order to more efficiently and effectively deter the export of stolen vehicles, Customs has published proposed amendments to its regulations in the Federal Register; (5) these amendments limit the type of document that can be used to establish proof of a vehicle's ownership and would permit only an original or certified copy of title or an original manufacturer's statement of origin as proof of ownership; (6) in addition, Customs officials, state and federal law enforcement agencies, and the insurance industry are exploring methods, such as computer-assisted documentation checks and nonintrusive cargo container examinations, to curtail the export of stolen vehicles; and (7) the Department of State has been negotiating bilateral treaties with several countries to alleviate the difficulty that owners of stolen vehicles face when their vehicles have been transported across international borders.

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