Catalytic converter thefts are skyrocketing; Oregon, other states are rife
If you start your car one morning and hear a loud roar when you step on the gas pedal, you may have been the victim of a burglary.
This disturbing sound could signal that a thief has shut off the catalytic converter, a device mounted near the exhaust pipe that turns environmentally hazardous engine exhaust gases into less harmful gases.
The number of thefts of catalytic converters has exploded during the pandemic, driven by high unemployment, more cars parked in the aisles and a peak metal value used to make appliances, platinum, palladium and rhodium.
Rhodium, for example, was selling for $ 2,300 an ounce in early January 2019, according to Kitco.com, a precious metals retailer that tracks prices. As of Wednesday, it was $ 13,250 an ounce.
State lawmakers have responded with measures to outsmart thieves and prevent the sale of stolen devices. The measures include banning the sale of converters without proof of ownership, tightening record keeping requirements for scrap dealers, and strengthening criminal penalties.
âCrime is rampant. He has significantly increased over the past two years“said Tully Lehman, spokesperson for the National Insurance Crime Bureau, an industry association formed to fight insurance fraud.
How to avoid the theft of the catalytic converter:Tips to protect your car
This year, at least 11 states enacted laws regarding the theft or sales of catalytic converters, according to Amanda Essex, criminal justice policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures. At least 10 other states have pending legislation.
In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott enacted a bill in June that makes the buying or selling of stolen catalytic converters a third degree felony. Sellers must provide proof of ownership and other information to metal recycling centers.
In Minnesota, lawmakers agreed to spend $ 400,000 to create a pilot program that will pay car owners to have their converters engraved with vehicle identification numbers or permanently marked so that parts can be identified if they are withdrawn.
New Oregon Law Will Add New Restrictions For Scrap Metal Dealers
And in Oregon, a measure goes into effect in January that prohibits scrap metal companies from buying or receiving catalytic converters except from commercial sellers or the vehicle owner. It also establishes new record keeping requirements for transactions.
“The idea is you can’t let a guy on the street take one and go to the local salvage yard and say, ‘Hey, I want to sell you this. “That’s what was happening,” said Democratic Oregon State Senator Chris Gorsek, who sponsored the bill at the behest of the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office.
Instead of increasing the penalty, Gorsek said, lawmakers have taken a preventative approach. “We are trying to make it so difficult that we hope they will stop this kind of behavior.”
Prosecutors worked with the scrap metal industry to gain support for the measure, which was passed overwhelmingly. âThe trick was to get everyone involved in this,â Gorsek said.
âYour political philosophy doesn’t matter in a case like this. People on both sides of the aisle had voters affected by this, âhe added. âAnd it’s not just an Oregon problem. It is a national problem that has spread across the country.
It only takes a few minutes for thieves to crawl under a vehicle and saw through a catalytic converter using basic tools. Criminals typically sell them for between $ 50 and $ 500 to junkyard dealers or internet buyers, according to law enforcement and insurance fraud officials.
This is costly for victims, who can end up paying anywhere from $ 1,000 to $ 4,000 for a new converter. Drivers who have full insurance coverage still have to pay a deductible; those who do not have to fork the money out of their own pockets. Some victims don’t bother to file a complaint.
The theft of converters has increased considerably. In 2019, 3,389 claims were filed, according to a report from the National Insurance Crime Group. In 2020, that number jumped 326% to 14,443.
A July report from State Farm found that its converter theft claims rose nearly 293% nationwide from mid-2020 to mid-2021 from the previous year. The company paid out around $ 34 million to its customers, up from around $ 9 million the year before.
One of the reasons for the upsurge in such crimes has been the rise in the value of precious metals, Lehman said.
âAnyone looking to make a quick buck can do it quite easily,â Lehman said. âThe value is good. They will be well paid.
But Lehman noted that the pandemic has also played a major role. This has resulted in lost income for people, more people working from home and leaving their cars outside, supply chain disruptions that have resulted in shortages of rare metals and limitations on police resources. .
While thieves can hit any car, officials say the main targets have been SUVs and fleet vehicles, such as trucks and buses, which are easier to slip under, and Toyota hybrids. Prius, which have two catalytic converters.
School bus fleets have been hit hard, officials say, as thieves know there is a large concentration sitting in bus stations overnight, unattended.
In Wisconsin, a school bus association official told a state Senate hearing in August that this year’s thefts prevented school buses from picking up students. Converters cost between $ 1,200 and $ 1,800 per bus to replace, she said.
âIf a bus station is targeted, it could easily force a school district to cancel classes while buses are fixed,â said Cherie Hime, executive director of the Wisconsin School Bus Association. “Even with security cameras and bright exterior lights in parking lots, thieves will boldly enter and quickly take what they are looking for, without worrying about the considerable losses to others.”
The police tried to crack down on the theft of catalytic converters.
In Mesa, Arizona, where there had been only one reported case in 2019 and 431 in 2021 as of mid-September, the Arizona Police Department and Attorney General’s Office conducted an operation to infiltration during the summer; several suspects were arrested.
In September, police in the Omaha, Nebraska area arrested 15 people after a months-long investigation into catalytic converter theft.
Some police departments have organized events for drivers, offering to engrave vehicle registration numbers on their converters for free.
Wisconsin lawmakers have also focused on the difficulty of selling a stolen device. Last month, the Wisconsin Senate unanimously passed a measure that would require anyone selling a converter to a junkyard to be at least 18 years old and present proper identification and proof of ownership. Dealers would be expected to keep sales records, and first-time violators could face a fine of $ 1,000 and 90 days in jail. The bill is now in the Assembly.
Wisconsin Democratic state senator Lena Taylor, who co-wrote the measure with a fellow Republican, said the problem transcended party lines and geography.
Taylor, from Milwaukee, said she had received calls and emails from victimized voters, including a faith-based program that connects unemployed people with jobs and provides them with transportation.
She said thieves stole converters from many of the program’s vans, costing money to repair. The program also had to suspend transport assistance.
“A huge problem statewide”
Republican Indiana State Senator Jack Sandlin knows firsthand about the theft of catalytic converters. His own church had three converters cut off from the small buses it uses, he said, and had to pay thousands of dollars to buy new ones.
âIt’s a huge problem statewide,â said Sandlin, who drafted a bill this year to turn felony from misdemeanor to felony. The measure garnered overwhelming bipartisan support, and Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb passed it in April.
Sandlin, a former police officer, said the state already has record-keeping requirements for traders who buy converters, so the legislation was intended to deter such thefts.
âIf you’re a mom who lives with a few kids in an apartment and you have a job that doesn’t pay well,â he said, âand someone turns off your catalytic converter and now you have to find $ 1,200 to do it. a vehicle that is functional again, this is the impact that we are seeing.
Catalytic converter theft can happen anywhere, but thieves tend to target vehicles parked in driveways, on the street, or in poorly lit parking lots.
How to avoid the theft of the catalytic converter
Experts say the best way to protect yourself is to:
â¢ Park your vehicle in a secure garage if you have access to it.
â¢ If you do not have access to a garage, park in a well-lit area or in an area with many people.