Home » I Feel Like I Got Screwed By This Shady VIN Check Site And I’m Not Happy

I Feel Like I Got Screwed By This Shady VIN Check Site And I’m Not Happy

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Once upon a time, we were told never to bring our banking details near a computer. Eventually, online commerce became normalized and it wasn’t that hard to stay safe. As I found out this past week, however, there are actors out there eager to take advantage of the unwary.

I feel like I got screwed this past week by a VIN check website that claims it works directly with the US government. Based on that, you’d think I’d have been safe from feeling duped, but I wasn’t.

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The slick actors not only charged my credit card, but naturally denied any refund once they had my hard-earned money. I’m pushing to get my money back, but it’s about more than that now. I’m doing everything I can to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.

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I wanted to learn about the car that matched this guitar…

This all started with the best of intentions. I’d recently challenged Autopian readers to try and buy a Volkswagen guitar and the matching car that goes with it. See, back in 2006, VW was giving away VIN-matched guitars with their new cars. I wanted to see if someone could reunite a guitar with its original vehicle, and Nathan Gerdes took up the challenge. He’s the Associate Editor over at Cars & Bids, so he knows a thing or two about buying cars. He’d bought a white guitar that originally came with a Jetta, and asked for my help—and that of the Autopian hivemind—to help him track down the car.

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So I went here. That was a mistake.

My first stop was Carfax, but the website is literally set up to block Australians from purchasing reports. Thus, I figured I’d Google around for another VIN check service. I came across EpicVIN, and it looked like it would do the job. Their site offered “Free VIN Check by VIN & Plate” which sounded right up my alley.

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Clicking through, they suddenly wanted $1 for the report. I wasn’t that surprised; most sites were asking similar fees. I’m a working journalist and I don’t have time to screw around, so I keyed in my credit card details, clicked through, and bought the report. I sent it off to Nathan, and thought little more of it. I filed away the guitar story to work on later and moved on.

Fast forward a few days. My smartphone chimes, alerting me I’ve just been charged again by “www.epicvin.com.” I was shocked and incredibly pissed off. I’d paid for a $1 report, and here it was showing they’d slugged me for $50 USD—a full $75 Australian dollars.

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I immediately reached out to EpicVIN to determine what the hell was going on. Their little game was quickly made apparent to me. When I demanded an immediate refund, their automated response insisted none would be forthcoming. This is all a part of their little game.

You see, you’re not buying a report for $1. You’re buying a “trial membership” to their premium service. Indeed, their site graphic says you’re getting “unlimited access to detailed reports for just $1*” but that’s not really the truth. You’re getting a 3-day trial that gives you up to five reports, and then they slug you for $50 USD. They’ll do so every month if you don’t catch the subscription charge the first time, too.

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The automated brush-off from EpicVIN.
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Maybe you’re diligent, and you notice the small print. You pay for your report, and you cancel your subscription. Well, that might not be enough…

This strategy isn’t completely unique. Lots of companies have free trials that will then sign you up for an ongoing service. Maybe you get two weeks or a month of free service, at which point you’re charged the regular fee.

EpicVIN apparently took this strategy and tweaked it to its advantage. It found a service that most people expect to be a one-off purchase, and turned it into what I feel is a sneaky subscription service. The cheap initial payment then puts you on an incredibly short timer—just three days!—before which you’re slugged with a massive $50 charge.Screenshot 2024 06 18 140057

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VinInspect and VinGurus are owned by EpicVIN, according to the US DOJ.

It’s not just EpicVIN, either. The company also owns VinInspect.com with a very similar pricing scheme and checkout page. DOJ records indicate EpicVIN also owns VinGurus.com as well, though it appears to use a different pricing structure.

The company’s standpoint is that they are open and honest about their product. Their order page states in the corner that you’re getting a “3 Day trial membership.” If you can find it amongst all the visual noise on the checkout page, the fine print does state there will be a $49.99 charge to come in three days. It’s worth noting, too that the $1 offer for Unlimited Reports” is not a real thing. EpicVIN was careful to dot a few asterisks around the page. If you really hunt you might realize you’re not even getting unlimited access for your initial $1 trial.

Few consider that fair. Reddit is full of people complaining about EpicVIN’s practices. The Better Business Bureau has recorded many complaints to the same effect.

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Indeed, there were so many complaints that EpicVIN made some minor changes to its site and tried to claim it had fixed the problem. It’s clear there are plenty of average people out there who find this kind of thing to be somewhat predatory, abhorrent, and offensive.

You might argue that I should have read all the fine print and that this is a perfectly fine way to do business. In that case, I invite you to sign up with EpicVIN and try canceling your service right away. Multiple people say they tried to do that, and got charged $50 anyway. Despite playing by the twisted rules, these people say they still got screwed.

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There are scathing reviews all over the web that are trashing EpicVIN’s pricing practices. And yet somehow, the site retains three and four-star ratings on many of them.

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I made multiple attempts to seek a refund from EpicVIN, but the company held fast. “We understand your request for a refund, but as mentioned previously, we’re unable to process a refund for the subscription. The subscription terms were clearly outlined during the purchase process, and unfortunately, we can’t deviate from our policies,” read the email.

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EpicVIN’s listed address leads to this non-descript business park in North Miami Beach.

I wasn’t surprised. This is how EpicVIN makes money—not by selling individual reports at a dollar a pop, but by scraping $50 a time from unsuspecting users.

I’ve already contacted my bank to pursue a chargeback. I’ve had to cancel a card and jump through all kinds of hoops. I had no choice. I couldn’t let this stand.

I’m not leaving it there, though. Based on reviews I’ve seen online, I fully expect EpicVIN will try and claim their transaction was legitimate. Plus, even if I get my money back, that won’t help anyone else avoid getting hoodwinked. So what else can be done?

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I’ve reached out to the Attorney General with a complaint via mail.

EpicVIN lists an address in North Miami Beach, Florida. I’ve notified the office of the Florida Attorney General about the matter via mail. It can also be done online, and I would advise anyone else similarly affected to do the same at this link.

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To source data for its reports, EpicVIN has access to the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System. Indeed, EpicVIN is on a list of Approved NMVTIS Data Providers, under the oversight of the US Department of Justice. I’ll be making a submission to the DOJ regarding the matter—specifically the Bureau of Justice Assistance, which administers the NMVTIS.

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EpicVIN and its subsidiary websites are Approved NMVTIS data providers, as authorized by the United States Department of Justice itself.

I’ve notified Google that it is hosting ads for a business that I feel is engaged in misleading pricing activity. I’ve also found that EpicVIN.com and VinGurus.com are registered with GoDaddy, an American Internet hosting company, while VinInspect.com was registered with NameCheap. I’ve notified the respective organizations of the practices ongoing on these websites. Clearly, I’m not happy.

As far as reviews go, EpicVIN currently has a four-star rating on Google. There are a ton of 1-star reviews with angry complaints, but that’s outweighed by five-star reviews from a few people.

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Wow! These guys really love EpicVIN!
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This woman does not, apparently.

I will note that EpicVIN also features logos for numerous companies (like NHTSA and Forbes) on its website. I’ve contacted these organizations to ask what their relationship is with EpicVIN, and whether they support the company’s activities in any way. We’ll update as comments become available.

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This isn’t the first time I’ve tangled with what I feel is predatory pricing online. I’ve had newspapers pull funny tricks before, forcing me to cancel subscriptions over the phone or otherwise making my life difficult. I’ve never had an organization try and screw me out of $50 for a three-day trial. I’ve also never heard of one that allegedly still insists on scraping its customers’ accounts even when they managed to cancel the predatory subscription ahead of time.

Ultimately, I’m doing my best to get the word out. Again, I’m not happy.

Image credits: EpicVin via screenshot, Office of the Attorney General Florida, DOJ, Google Streetview, LinkedIn Via Screenshot, Nathan Gerdes

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Vc-10
Vc-10
18 days ago

I’ve taken to using temporary card numbers for transactions online. The app for my bank generates them, they can then be set to deactivate after a period of time. Works well for shady shit online! I don’t bother with stuff with companies I trust, but if it’s in any way shady looking I’ll use that.

Lost on the Nürburgring
Lost on the Nürburgring
20 days ago

I’m sorry you ran into these scumbags and good for you on being so comprehensive in reaching out to various agencies to let them know.

Can I ask one question? Can you dive into the below sentence a bit more…? What’s up with that?

My first stop was Carfax, but the website is literally set up to block Australians from purchasing reports.

Lost on the Nürburgring
Lost on the Nürburgring
10 days ago
Reply to  Lewin Day

Huh. That’s weird and a definite pita.

Gee See
Gee See
20 days ago

One trick about online US newspaper subscriptions is to use a California address (can be mailbox / post office etc). Since they have relatively tough set regulations for consumer protection, companies like NYTimes makes unsubscribing etc much easier if you say you are living in that state.

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