Forget hot-wiring. As new technology makes it harder to steal cars the old-fashioned way, today’s thieves are using more sophisticated “white-collar” methods to get their hands on a set of wheels, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).
The NICB and its law enforcement partners report a growing number of these cases which, in legal terms, constitute financial fraud. As such, these stolen vehicles are not counted as auto thefts – which may partially account for the steady decline in auto theft crime statistics over the past two decades.
Over the next few months, NICB will highlight several of the new schemes that criminals are using to steal cars in order to increase public awareness and thwart these crimes.
One of the newest schemes involves the use of stolen forms of identification. Crooks use stolen IDs to fraudulently lease or obtain loans to purchase new vehicles. Once they drive the vehicle off the dealer’s lot, they skip out without ever making scheduled payments. Often, the cars are then sold to unsuspecting buyers after the Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) have been switched.
In one recent case, NICB Senior Special Agent Mike Kelso, working with Wisconsin police, uncovered an ID theft ring in Detroit, Michigan. The crooks used stolen IDs to fraudulently lease five vehicles worth more than $300,000 which they later planned to sell. They were arrested and convicted on charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
During the investigation, police also recovered five fake Michigan driver’s licenses, the personal identifying information of several identity theft victims, and over $20,000 worth of fraudulently purchased merchandise.
While investigators report a noticeable increase in this type of auto theft, there is currently no central database that quantifies these crimes.
“Trying to put a number on these kinds of thefts is a challenge,” said NICB President and CEO Joe Wehrle. “It’s comparable to a hacker stealing IDs — you don’t know you’re a victim until it’s too late. Most of these thefts don’t show up in traditional crime reporting numbers and become financial losses for lenders, car rental companies and others. The result is millions of dollars added to the cost of doing business which is ultimately passed on to consumers.”
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