DES PLAINES, Ill. (Oct. 6, 2014) — Forget hot-wiring. As new technology makes it harder to steal cars the old-fashioned way, thieves today are turning to more sophisticated “white-collar” methods to get their hands on a set of wheels.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) and its law enforcement partners report that a growing number of these cases constitute, in legal terms, financial fraud. Therefore, 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.
To increase public awareness and thwart these crimes, over the next few months the NICB said it plans to highlight several of the new schemes criminals are using to steal cars.
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, according to the NICB. Once the vehicle is driven off an auto dealer's lot, the crook skips 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, the NICB said its Senior Special Agent Mike Kelso, working with police in Brown Deer, Wis., uncovered an ID theft ring in Detroit. The crooks, using stolen IDs, fraudulently leased five vehicles worth more than $300,000, with plans to later sell them.
According to the NICB, two individuals were arrested and convicted on charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. They were 54-year-old Verita Hines-Flagg of Belleville, Mich., sentenced to five years in prison; and 29-year-old Benjamin Hines of Detroit, sentenced to 18 months in prison and three years of supervised release.
During the investigation, the NICB said that 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, according to the NICB.