Conservation police warn of fraudulent boat sales

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) has seen an increase in people falling victim to purchasing boats and personal watercrafts (PWC) that have been misrepresented to them. Many of these turn out to be stolen and are unable to be registered, leaving the buyer in a position of great financial loss.  Motorboats and PWCs have to be registered and titled when operated on Virginia’s public waters and often during this process is when a buyer of a boat finds out that there are issues with the boat or PWC they purchased. 

The DGIF’s Conservation Police Boat Fraud and Theft Unit has been investigating these incidents offered some tips to those who are looking at buying a used boat or PWC. 

First, make sure the hull identification number (HIN) is present and does not appear to be altered. The HIN is the identification number assigned to the vessel by the manufacturer just as the vehicle identification number (VIN) is assigned to a motor vehicle. Boats manufactured before 1972 may not have HINs. As with a vehicle, a vessel without an HIN cannot be registered or titled. The HIN is located on the rear of the vessel and generally on the upper right-hand corner of the outside of the vessel.

Another tip is to physically look at the boat before purchasing it. There are many online scams where the purchaser never receives the boat after paying for it. Getting a Bill of Sale and the title are also very important. Ensuring that the paperwork associated with the boat is complete and all numbers correctly match will speed up the registration and titling process. Most importantly, do not fall victim to pressure sales; take your time, ask questions, and if you are not comfortable with the sale, do not buy it.  

If you are a victim of having your boat stolen, it is important to notify DGIF immediately. Their conservation police officers (CPOs) have a strong presence on the waters and are likely to encounter these vessels while on patrol. Information for reporting a stolen boat to DGIF can be found at

DGIF encourages reporting of fraudulent boat activity, whether online scams, counterfeit titles or paperwork, unlicensed dealers, and chop shops. To report this or any other illegal boating, hunting, or fishing activity, call (800) 237-5712 or email


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