U.S. auto thefts may have been falling for the past seven years, but hundreds of thousands of vehicles still disappear from their owners every years. A massive sting operation by New York law enforcement officials of a 14-member nationwide theft ring that jacked more than 100 cars by stealing electronic key codes reveals just how advanced the professionals have become.
According to the New York Police Dept. and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the theft ring essentially used the streets of New York as a showroom, taking orders from clients overseas that would specify which vehicle they wanted down to the color and accessories. The gang would have its shoppers fan out on New York streets until they found a model that matched the order -- and when they did, the real magic began.
Most new cars come with software and ID chips on their key fobs that ensures the car will not start without the fob, which is why replacing a lost key costs a few hundred bucks. This ring cleared that hurdle thanks to a Toyota dealership employee in Florida who would look up the right code based on the targeted vehicle's VIN, then email the code back to New York. The gang's tech team would use a laptop to make a new key curbside, and drive off with their prize.
From there, the gang let the cars chill out in a couple of New York-area garages while it created forged paperwork, then shipped them out -- either to Chicago or via containers from New Jersey and Maryland ports to Africa. While a few non-Toyota brands were lifted by the ring, most were Toyota and Lexus SUVs, and each stolen car could be worth as much as $40,000 in cash. Officials said the value of all vehicles stolen could hit $4 million.
A dozen of the 14 men charged in the case face a 58-count indictment, based on a year's investigation that included wire taps and other surveillance. In the '90s, New York alone would suffer 100,000 stolen vehicles a year; last year the total was 9,334. As impressive as this bust was, there's still smarter thieves on the street.
Photo: Catatronic via Flickr