DES PLAINES, IL --- The National Insurance Crime Bureau is creating a free public database of vehicles declared a total loss by insurers, allowing the public to enter vehicle identification numbers to see whether a car has a hidden history, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The crime bureau, funded by 1,000 of the nation's insurance companies, will begin the online service ( at the end of this month. When the service is ready for launch, the public can click on a link to the organization's VINcheck system. Unlike commercial databases that sell similar information, the crime bureau's database will have access to the internal records of hundreds of the nation's largest insurance companies, the L.A. Times reported. The service will offer the most comprehensive information ever made available, said Frank Scafidi, a spokesman for the organization.


"The best part of this is that it's free," he told the Times.

Over the past five years, nearly 12 million vehicles have been deemed a total loss by the insurance industry. The causes include collisions, fires and floods. According to industry estimates, about 30 percent of these vehicles are recycled into the used car market.

"Our goal is to provide as much information as possible to consumers -- at no charge -- to protect them against fraudulent used car sales and potentially deadly accidents from driving unsafe vehicles," Robert M. Bryant, crime bureau president, told the Times.

NICB began offering the public access to VINs of problem vehicles in October 2005, when the organization publicly posted the identities of about 300,000 vehicles and boats that had been caught in Hurricane Katrina. Those flooded vehicles were being recycled into the interstate used car market. Then last November, NICB expanded the program to include VINs of unrecovered stolen vehicles.

About 1 million vehicles are stolen in the U.S. every year and on average only 63 percent are recovered.