Canadian luxury auto dealers are being warned about a rise in stolen and fraudulently purchased vehicles after law enforcement busted up a multimillion-dollar car-theft ring in the Toronto area last week.
Project Baijin — a joint effort between a trio of police departments and the Canada Border Services Agency — seized 28 high-end vehicles worth about C$2.5 million ($1.9 million USD) and destined for China and Europe.
The project began back in April.
Peel Regional Police wouldn’t discuss with Automotive News Canada what prompted the investigation, but at a news conference last week the department said it started with a phone call from a concerned citizen.
Police eventually seized six high-priced vehicles from a “chop shop” in Mississauga, Ont., on April 10. Police say they found a 2015 Jeep Wrangler, a 2016 Mercedes GLE350, a 2018 Mercedes C300, a 2018 Audi A7, a 2018 Dodge Ram and a 2019 Range Rover at the shop.
Police allege the vehicle identification numbers were being removed and replaced with fraudulent numbers.
Police arrested two men from Markham, Ont., and continued their investigation, finding links throughout the Toronto area and several provinces, spanning from Quebec to British Columbia, where vehicles were being obtained and brought to auto shops in Ontario.
Subsequent to the arrests, and with the assistance of Halton Regional Police and York Regional Police, investigators executed eight search warrants across Peel, Halton and York regions and seized an additional 22 vehicles worth C$2.2 million ($1.67 million USD). They also arrested another five men from the Toronto region.
“Ninety percent of the vehicles recovered were newer-model vehicles that were fraudulently financed and then re-vinned,” Peel Regional Police spokesman Const. Akhil Mooken told Automotive News Canada in an email.
Police said some of the vehicles they seized were also wrapped in vinyl in what officers said was an attempt to temporarily change their colors and avoid detection.
“Our investigators have encountered this on numerous occasions,” Mooken said. “It is a cheaper alternative and is less labor intensive than re-painting a vehicle.”
Mooken said thefts from dealerships “are becoming more common” and that they are preventable if dealers do a little extra legwork before finalizing a sale.
Buyers were using fake identification and false employment records to get financing approved, police said.
“We encourage all employees at dealerships to be vigilant and ensure they complete a thorough background check to ensure that the information provided, such as employment, banking information and addresses are correct,” Mooken said. “Investigators were able to use open source tools such as internet search engines and determine that the employment and addresses provided were false.”