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La Presse: Telegram, a Haven for Car Thieves

Published by La Presse on August 19 | Mayssa Ferah | Source


In a dedicated chat group on the social network Telegram, car thieves openly trade tips and tricks. Victims, meanwhile, may feel somewhat powerless to protect themselves from this increasingly common nuisance.


One Click to Steal a Car

“One Londsor Toyota Lexus key left.” “I buy addresses for 2020 Toyota Highlanders and Lexus Rx350.” Is this a video game or a movie? Welcome to the virtual realm of real-life car thieves. La Presse has identified a Telegram group that offers fifty ways to swipe a car, with no pretence of hiding from the public gaze. Car theft in Quebec is now routine.

The group is filled with offers and life hacks for aspiring perpetrators. Alleged car thieves use the group to provide mutual aid, offer training, sell car key reprogramming kits, and talk about desirable models, including addresses where these can be found. A simple click in the public chat platform and the information is readily available. You don’t even need a password or access code—the group of nearly 1,300 subscribers is open to anyone online.


A video demonstrates how to use a special tool to silently, easily smash a car window.

A treasure trove for thieves in training: $20 for a car window breaker, or three for $50.


An automatic key programmer for Chevrolet, Cadillac, Jeep, or Ford sells for around $2,000. For Honda and Acura keys, a similar device is available for $700. Prices are even shown in Bitcoins.

“Another satisfied customer!” crows a group administrator. “Hit me up for programmers, best prices in town!”


A customer fans out a stack of bills.

“Satisfied customers” are sometimes invited to post pictures of the cash they earned with the help of the admin’s “services.”


Targeting and Online Training

Another user’s post to the group, seen by about 1,400 people, offers to buy Montreal or Ottawa residential addresses where the following vehicles can be found: Toyota Highlander, Lexus LX, Lexus GX, Lexus RX. “250 each address,” the author promises.


The author goes on to request photos of the vehicle from multiple angles, and photos of the vehicle identification number (VIN) and driver’s side window. “I don't buy tag vehicles,” warns the author,* referring to cars equipped with a tracking device, which are ever more popular as car theft increases.

* Important note from the Tag Tracking team:

Thieves and stolen vehicle buyers alike avoid vehicles with "tags installed, meaning they avoid vehicles protected by the Tag Tracking System (Apple's AirTag product is not a deterrent).


Training sessions are offered up for sale like a pair of jeans. They even have summertime promotions. “Toyota training! Summer discount!” reads a post in the group.


Car-stealing lessons for sale

A video tutorial teaches viewers how to steal a car without leaving a trace, how to reprogram a key, and how to remove an anti-theft tracking device. The “lesson” costs $3,500.


A “Business Opportunity”

Chat groups of this nature are quite common, confirms a criminal source consulted by La Presse. Whether by fraud, theft, or even selling guns, it’s not unusual for thieves to help each other out online.


A list of car models seen as desirable by potential thieves


Stealing a car is relatively simple, the source points out, which could explain why participation among juvenile offenders has increased in recent years. Another factor is supply and demand: since 2020, prices for cars and materials have gone up considerably, and demand for trucks and SUVs is high. This represents a “business opportunity” for the underground community. Thieves remotely scan signals from car keys, which are frequently kept near the front door. They can then reprogram the keys. Stolen vehicles without broken windows or visible damage can more easily reach the Port of Montreal unidentified. Most stolen cars are foreign bound, often for countries in Africa. They don’t always go abroad immediately following the theft. A stolen vehicle may be parked in a strategic location for a time, in “static, stand-by” mode.


It will be kept by a third party at a “cool down” spot in a discrete location, such as a parking lot on the outskirts of an industrial area. This way, the thieves, their accomplices, and their network cannot be traced if the vehicle is seized. According to our source, this method generally prevents unwanted attention.


When targeting vehicles for theft, thieves first explore the neighbourhood and check to see whether the car has a tracking device, such as an AirTag.


The promise of easy money compels young thieves to commit the crime, despite the risk of getting caught on camera or arrested. Amounts received are based on the value of the stolen vehicle and range from $3,000 to $10,000.


“No One is Safe”

Despite compensation for victims and the generally non-violent nature of the crime, car owners targeted by theft may find themselves hard-pressed as demand for cars continues to rise.


“I was caught off guard,” Olivier Lessard-Huard readily admits. The Boucherville resident never thought thieves would want his aging Chrysler. It isn’t exactly a shiny new luxury SUV, he reasoned.


But it would seem that criminals will stop at nothing. “No one is safe,” he says.

Mr. Lessard-Huard, whose car disappeared last February, believes car theft has become a serious issue. Although this type of crime causes neither death nor physical harm, it is nevertheless inconvenient and costly. Acquiring a new car isn’t easy and can take several months.


“I only drove that car during winter. My other vehicle can only be driven in the summer. So, now I need to find a used car for this winter, but with such high demand, it won't be easy,” he says. The theft occurred between February 24 and 26, when Mr. Lessard-Huard had left his car parked in an industrial area of Montreal for a week. He was surprised that an old Chrysler would be stolen. Although worse things may have happened to him, he had just spent $1,500 on repairs to his spacious sedan. “It just goes to show that it can happen to anyone. It’s not the kind of car thieves seek out."


"It’s not a great time to buy a car, and mine wasn’t insured.”


One thing is certain, Mr. Lessard-Huard has decided to install a tracking device on his next vehicle.


In mid-June, Jean-Philippe Hunter also fell prey to suspected thieves. He had parked his vehicle on Saint-Denis Street in Montréal, close to his home. In the morning, he was shocked and dismayed to discover that his 2017 Honda Pilot was missing. “It’s our only car. We really needed it.”


After trying to find the car to no avail, he filed an insurance claim. He also contacted several car rental companies.


“They said they had no rental cars available… because too many cars were being stolen!”

- Jean-Philippe Hunter, car theft victim


Amazingly, the next day Mr. Hunter’s nine-year-old son spotted the family car while he was out on a school trip. “It’s crazy that he recognized our car! We were lucky, but it’s scary to know that someone got into your car.”


The car was damaged, and it cost $1,000 to reprogram the keys and fix the lock, which the perpetrators had forced.


He immediately installed a security camera in front of the house and a tracking device on the vehicle he was so fortunate to recover. “It may not seem like a big deal, but it’s a pretty expensive headache!”


Quebec and Ontario Lead the Pack

Quebec and Ontario have seen the largest increase reported in the number of stolen vehicles. The insurance industry has also lost an estimated sum of more than $1 billion in 2022 due to claims related to vehicle theft, according to a report published last June.


Most stolen cars are recent models (2017 or newer), because newer and high-end vehicles bring crime rings bigger profits from overseas sales. Unsurprisingly, the most frequently targeted vehicles are trucks and SUVs. According to a report released in 2023 by Équité Association, which counts many insurance companies as members, the recovery rate of 45% in Ontario and 34% in Quebec “suggests vehicles were primarily being exported overseas through ports.”


Increases in vehicle theft from 2021 to 2022
  • Ontario + 48,3 %

  • Quebec + 50 %

  • Alberta + 18,3 %

  • Atlantic Canada + 34,5 %

Source: 2022 Vehicle Theft Trend Report, Équité Association


Many Quebecers are being arrested in Ontario for car theft, our police sources confirm.


It’s a developing situation, and according to the Service de police de Laval (SPL) ("Laval Police Service"), multiple investigative techniques are being deployed to identify and apprehend suspected car thieves.


“These are profitable endeavours for street gang members, but we’re currently unable to confirm whether, in general, that accounts for all the subjects arrested [for car theft].”

- Service de police de Laval

Slight decrease in car theft in Laval
  • From January to June 2022: 815 thefts

  • From January to June 2023: 786 thefts

Source : Service de police de Laval


The increase in vehicle theft in Canada is due to the scarcity of new motor vehicles on the market, according to an email La Presse received from the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) ("Montreal City Police Service"). The pandemic caused significant shortages in all sectors of the economy, worldwide. “This is true of the industry that produces semiconductors, the main component of electronic microchips, which are essential to manufacturing motor vehicles. As a result, the price of vehicles already in circulation has also gone up significantly, making them even more attractive to thieves.”



Montréal police say that since 2021, they have deployed additional resources to investigate vehicle theft. “Also in 2021, an integrated team of various police services, including ours, was formed to unite police efforts to combat the situation as effectively as possible. We must emphasize, however, that prevention is far more important than arrests, which are only a small part of the solution,” said the SPVM.


How to Stay Protected?

There are ways to protect your vehicle from theft, says Jesse Caron, CAA Quebec’s automotive expert. Thieves use devices that magnify signals from car keys so they can unlock the door as though the key were in their pocket. To protect yourself from this type of device, Mr. Caron recommends keeping car keys in a Faraday or RFID-blocking box well away from the front door. “It cuts off the signal,” he explains. Online prices fall mainly in the $20 to $30 range.


A good old-fashioned anti-theft club on the steering wheel and pedals can deter amateur thieves or at least make their job harder.


Installing a tracking device such as an AirTag on the vehicle can help police working to investigate a case of car theft. Tracking services can install multiple, hard-to-find tracking devices throughout the vehicle** making it possible to locate the stolen vehicle in the event of theft. Mr. Caron also recommends installing a surveillance camera near residential parking areas. In some cases, surveillance camera footage can help authorities find the perpetrators.


** Important note from the Tag Tracking team:

Tag Tracking is the only stolen vehicle tracking system to be widely recommended by insurance companies. With multiple wireless transponders, our system is nearly impossible for thieves to disable, and our in-house tracking team is on call 24/7 to track vehicles anywhere in North America. The "AirTag" sold in stores has got nothing on the Tag Tracking system!


However, Mr. Caron warns that no method is foolproof. Thieves can adapt to various layers of anti-theft protection.


AirTags are very popular. But on the flip side, thieves can use them too. They can install them on our cars to locate them and wait for the best time to pounce.”

- Jesse Caron, de CAA Quebec


It’s best to avoid long-term parking in commonly targeted locations, such as hotel parking lots or streets in industrial areas.


 

We'd like to extend La Presse and Mayssa Ferah our thanks | Source





Call our team today to learn more about the Tag Tracking system.

Local (514) 745-8241, toll-free +1 (888) 745-8241, info@tagtracking.ca



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