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Types of Car Theft

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Aside from the "standard" method of taking cars from driveways and parking spots, thieves have four other major ways in which they steal cars.  Click on a type below to read more about it:

1.  Carjacking:  Caught Between A Steering Wheel and A Gun

The Process:

Carjacking is the forceful theft of an occupied vehicle. Most carjackings happen in as little as 15 seconds, when the thief (generally armed) suddenly appears and demands that the driver surrender the car. The FBI reports that the primary motives for carjacking are to secure transportation after robbing the driver to obtain transportation to commit another crime, such as drug trafficking.

The FBI estimates that approximately 25,000 carjackings occur annually, nationwide. The FBI recorded approximately 177,500 carjackings between 1987 to 1992.

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Different Scenarios:

There are several different carjacking scenarios. Carjackers attack motorists at traffic lights, gas stations, parking lots, fast food drive-thrus and in other areas where they are stopped or exiting their vehicles. Carjacking gangs often employ the bump and run technique in which thieves in one car pull up behind an unsuspecting driver and bump the driver s car. When the driver gets out to inspect the damage, the thieves forcibly take control of the car.

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Penalties for Carjacking:

The Federal Anti-Car Theft Act of 1992 (FACTA) makes carjacking a federal offense, punishable by up to life imprisonment. The 1994 Crime Bill increases the punishment for carjackers, calling for the death penalty when an innocent victim is killed.

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Carjacking Eye-Openers:

An FBI study found there are certain times you are more likely to become a victim of a carjacking:

  • Most carjackings occur between 8 and 11 p.m.
  • Friday, Saturday and Sunday account for nearly half of all carjackings.
  • More carjackings occur in December (27%) than any other month.
  • Fifteen metropolitan areas account for 90% of carjackings.
  • Parking lots are the favorite areas for carjackers, followed by city streets, residential driveways, car dealers and gas stations.
  • In cases involving the use of weapons, 90% involve handguns.

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Carjacking Prevention Tips:

  • Lock your car doors, even while driving. Many carjackings occur at red lights, stop signs or drive-thrus.
  • When going to the gas station, turn off your car and lock your doors when going to pay the attendant.
  • When returning to your parked car, be aware of the surroundings. Glance in the back seat and under the car before opening car doors.
  • Install an anti-theft device that has a panic button you can activate if you sense trouble.
  • Drive in the center lane when on highways; this reduces your chances of becoming a bump and run theft victim.

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2.  Chop Shops:  Piecemeal Approach to Vehicle Theft

The Process

Chop shops are the places where stolen cars are disassembled and sold, piece-by-piece, to disreputable auto repair and body shops. Once separated from the chassis, many vehicle parts don t carry Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) and can no longer be identified and traced.

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Age Before Beauty

Parts often grow more valuable as cars age. Most chop shop operators make two to four times a vehicle s actual worth by selling its parts separately.

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Issue Update -- Airbags

Airbags have recently joined the list of attractive parts and accessories to steal. Crooked autobody shops often recruit thieves to steal airbags. The airbag thief often gets $100-200 for the airbag and the body shop defrauds the consumer and the insurance industry of nearly $1,500 by installing the stolen airbag.

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Legislative Response

The Federal Anti-Car Theft Act of 1992 (FACTA) expanded vehicle part markings to include all vehicle makes and models by the end of 1997. The Act also requires repair shops, insurers, recyclers and dismantlers handling a used part to check the part s VIN against a national vehicle database.

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Industry Response

Vehicle manufacturers are improving overall anti-theft systems for entire cars. Additionally, carmakers are encouraging auto repair shops to replace airbags only with new units to lessen the demand for previously installed airbags.

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Older Models Are Stolen More Often Than Newer Models

According to a NICB study, vehicles built in 1987 were stolen more often than brand new models in 1994.                                                                  

This study is based on motor vehicles reported stolen to the NICB in 1994 by member companies.

Approximately 450,000 motor vehicles were reported stolen to the NICB in 1994 (roughly 30% of all motor vehicles reported stolen nationwide).

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3.  VIN Switching: The Ultimate Alias

What is a VIN?

Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) are serial numbers for vehicles that are used to differentiate similar makes and models. Much like social security numbers, every vehicle has a different VIN. VIN plates are located on the dashboard and can be viewed through the windshield. Law enforcement agencies use VINs to determine if a vehicle has an active theft record.

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There are a number of scams criminals use which utilize Vehicle Identification Numbers:

VIN Switch:

VIN Switching is a technique used by thieves to disguise the identity of a stolen vehicle. They will replace the VIN on a stolen vehicle with a VIN that is not associated with an active theft record. The vehicle thief will then try to resell the stolen car to an unsuspecting customer. In addition to manually switching the VIN, some VIN switchers will also develop fraudulent titles and registrations to go along with the vehicle.

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Salvage Switch: A Case of Taken Identity

A vehicle which is extensively damaged, burned or stripped and deemed not worthy of repair is called "salvaged."

Thieves use a phony name and address to buy a salvaged vehicle solely for its title and Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). They steal a car of the same make and model and switch the VINs -- removing the rectangular VIN plate from the salvaged car and placing it in the stolen car, giving the vehicle a "clean" look. The perpetrators then claim the stolen car is the salvaged one that s been rebuilt, register the car using the same phony name and address, and resell it to an innocent purchaser.

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Strip and Run:

The Strip and Run is another scam thieves use to disguise a stolen car. Here, a vehicle thief will steal a car, strip it for its parts, then abandon it. The police eventually recover the vehicle and cancel the theft record. The thieves purchase the frame at an insurance or police auto auction and then re-attach the parts they had stolen. The end result is a road-worthy car that is no longer listed as stolen.

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The NICB Fights Back

NICB Online helps close the loopholes that allow VIN switching to flourish. An NICB Online service, VIN assist, allows insurance and law enforcement professionals to decode VINs to reveal the vehicle's make, model, model year, engine size and restraint system. If the vehicle's characteristics provided by VIN assist do not match the vehicle, there is a good chance the vehicle has undergone a VIN switch.

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Don't Let A Vehicle Thief Take You for A Ride: Consumer Tips

  1. Look closely at the VIN plate, located on the driver s side of the dashboard, to see if it appears tampered.
  2. Never buy a used car without getting the vehicle s title or pink slip in person; and double check the vehicle Identification number with the number listed on the title, the registration papers and the federal certification label on the driver's side door.
  3. Ask to see identification of the person who is selling you the car; write down his/her name, address, phone number and drivers license number for your records.
  4. Call the phone number given to you by the vehicle's owner. Often, scam artists will provide the phone number of a random pay phone.

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4.  Vehicle Theft Fraud

Greed is the motivating factor for most insurance fraud perpetrators. Some perpetrators fraudulently report their vehicle stolen in an attempt to collect insurance money. Others try to dispose of their vehicle because they cannot afford their car payments.

Here are some of the most common vehicle theft fraud schemes:

Owner Give-up

In this scheme, the vehicle owner orchestrates the destruction of the vehicle to collect insurance money. The "stolen" vehicle is often found burned in a secluded area, submerged in a lake or, in some extreme cases, buried underground.

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30-Day Special

The 30-day special is often perpetrated by owners whose vehicle need extensive repairs. They will report the vehicle stolen and hide it for 30 days -- just long enough for the insurance company to settle the claim. Once the claim is paid, the vehicle is often found abandoned.

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Export Fraud

In this scheme, the insurance fraud perpetrator purchases or rents a vehicle, insures it and then ships it to an overseas conspirator. Once the conspirator sells the vehicle, the perpetrator reports it stolen. The insurance company covers the loss, while the fraud ring profits from the sale of the vehicle.

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Phantom Vehicles

This scheme occurs when an individual creates a phony title or registration to secure insurance on a non-existent vehicle. The insured will later report the vehicle stolen before filing a fraudulent insurance claim. Often antique or luxury vehicles will be used, since the more valuable the vehicle, the larger the settlement.

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Scapegoat Theft

Sometimes an individual will claim to be a vehicle theft victim to avoid criminal prosecution for another crime. For example, a vehicle owner who hit a parked car or telephone pole may abandon the vehicle and report it stolen to avoid paying for the damages.

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Classic Car Capers

Investigators from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) have seen nearly every type of vehicle theft fraud imaginable. One NICB agent uncovered a "stolen" car in a quarry with an ice scraper holding down the gas pedal.

Here are the results from some other interesting investigations.

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The Compost Cadillac

Acting on a tip from an insurance company, NICB agents dug through a 400-ton pile of tree clippings to recover a "stolen" 1988 Cadillac Allante. Ironically, the owner of the compost yard reported the same vehicle stolen and collected more than $24,000 from his insurance company.

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Looking High and "Lo"

In another NICB stolen carcase, a man reported his Corvette stolen. Little did he know, the Corvette's previous owner had installed a tracking device on the vehicle. The police located the "stolen" vehicle within an hour -- parked in his best friend's garage.

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The Classic Car Case

A retired doctor received $270,000 from his insurance company when he claimed his prized collection of nine classic cars was "stolen" from a storage facility. The over zealous doctor claimed his tools were stolen with the cars. Agents soon discovered the receipts for the tools turned out to be fictitious -- so were the cars.

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