The number of insurance claims filed for catalytic converter thefts plummeted this year after rising dramatically in 2021 and 2022.
National Insurance Crime Bureau data shows that as of Sept. 30, the number of claimed catalytic converter thefts averaged 2,675 per month this year, compared to a monthly average of 5,369 in 2022 and 4,209 in 2021.
Still, theft rates remain far above pre-pandemic levels. There were only 3,721 theft claims in all of 2019. The total jumped to 16,214 in 2020, 50,503 in 2021 and 64,433 in 2022, according to NICB.
State Farm reported a similar trend. The insurer said it received 14,500 claims in the first half of 2023 compared to 45,000 in 2022 and 32,000 in 2021. The average claim cost $2,900 this year, up from $1,900 in 2019, State Farm said.
California had a disproportionate share of theft claims in both the NICB and State Farm reports. NICB reported 13,138 catalytic converter theft claims in the first nine months of this year — 55% of the national total. The state accounts for only 13% of the total number of registered automobiles in the United States.
The catalytic converter crime spree caught the attention of law enforcement and lawmakers across the nation. NICB reported that 21 states enacted laws this year to deter catalytic converter thefts and legislation was introduced in an additional 19 states.
Even Congress got involved. Rep. Jim Baird, R-Indiana, introduced a bill in February that would require auto manufacturers to stamp VIN numbers of catalytic converters and require recordkeeping by businesses that buy and sell converters. The Preventing Auto Recycling Theft Act had not yet been assigned to a committee as of Tuesday afternoon.
Law enforcement has also cracked down. An initiative by the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia reported in June the arrest of a towing company owner and nine others who are accused of stealing 27,300 catalytic converters that sold for $8.2 million over a three-year period.
The US Justice Department announced an even larger bust last November. The government arrested 21 defendants accused of an participating in an organized theft ring in California and Oklahoma. Federal prosecutors are seeking forfeiture of $545 million in cash, motor vehicles, jewelry and hundreds of pallets of catalytic converters from eight defendants in an alleged New Jersey crime ring. The lead defendant, Navin Khanna, allegedly wore a pendant around his neck in the shape of a catalytic converter.
A report by NBC News suggests that the drop in thefts may have more to do with a drop in prices for the three precious metals that are contained in catalytic convertors. A sudden jump in prices for rhodium, palladium and platinum is suspected of leading to the sudden jump in the theft rate to begin with.
The price of rhodium dropped from more than $26,000 per ounce in 2021 to an average of $5,846 this year, according to Kitco.com, which tracks precious metal prices. Palladium dropped from a peak of about $3,000 an ounce in March 2022 to about $1,100 this month, Kitco’s data shows. Platinum, which peaked above $1,300 an ounce in early 2021, had dropped to about $930.
Top photo: This photo provided by the Phoenix Police Department shows stolen catalytic converters that were recoverd after detectives served a search warrant at a storage unit Phoenix on Thursday, May 27, 2022. The bust came amid a national surge in thefts of the pricy auto parts that play a critical in reducing vehicle emissions and has led lawmakers in 36 states and in Washington D.C. to consider new laws to address the problem. (Phoenix Police Department via AP)
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