Theft and sale of stolen cars: a business that is difficult to stop

The theft and sale of cars is a highly organised criminal activity that affects all regions all over the world and with clear links with organised crime and terrorism. The vehicles are stolen, on the one hand, for the financial benefit involved, and on the other hand, to finance other crimes. They can also be used as explosive weapons or as a means to commit other crimes.

Databases related to Interpol crime vehicle theft (SMV) are currently a fundamental tool used against theft and the international trafficking of vehicles. It enables the police to check a suspicious vehicle and to instantly reveal if its theft has been reported. It is important because it is an international database, as vehicles cross national borders, at times thousands of kilometres away from where they were stolen.

In 2015, roughly 123,000 stolen vehicles all over the world were identified, thanks to the SMV database. At the end of 2017, the number of recordings on the databases was up to 7.4 million.

The vast majority of the countries that are members of Interpol have special units that deal with crimes related to vehicles, with databases of stolen vehicles and even stolen bicycles, as is the case of Canada and United States.

There are no precise parameters or indicators to quantify organised crime. In the best of cases estimations based on statistics, commercial economic models and known cash flows, combining them with data concerning confiscations, arrests and the sentencing of the authors of the crimes are available. Nor are there any comparable statistics concerning the economic damage caused by vehicle-related crime. There are only estimates based on data provided by vehicle insurance companies.

Another existing problem is that vehicle-related crime is not typified as such, as the legislation in different countries can make distinctions between misappropriation, Insurance fraud, theft, theft of goods, car-jacking – car theft with violence and/or threats – or home-jacking – burglary to steal the keys to the vehicle- etc.

Finally, it must be added that within the police environment, vehicle-related crime may not be as much of a priority as other offences like drug trafficking, crimes against minors, people trafficking or terrorism. Although these crimes are often related to the use of vehicles that have been obtained fraudulently.

Stolen vehicles can be divided into two categories. The first would be top-make cars and regular models, easy to acquire, which applies to most. The second consists of highly lucrative models, like sports and luxury cars.

Interpol, in its reports and recommendations, always insists on intensifying information exchange and cooperation between the different services responsible for administering borders – customs, immigration -, and with other national entities – traffic police, authorities responsible for registration, etc.-.


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