HOWARD COUNTY, Md. (FOX 5 DC) - During the pandemic, the value of precious metals has skyrocketed and as a result, and so has the rate of theft involving a certain auto-part. Catalytic converters contain valuable metals and are being targeted by thieves across the country.
Howard County police have made an arrest in one case and they believe this guy could be linked to dozens of other incidents.
People have been targeted in the park and ride off Brokenland Parkway in Columbia and in other lots all across the Howard County area.
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Police want drivers to be aware because thieves make several hundred dollars a pop selling catalytic converters on the black market, but for you to replace yours it can cost anywhere from $900 to several thousand dollars.
A catalytic converter looks like a small muffler along the exhaust system. It converts hazardous exhaust into less harmful gasses and contains precious metals like platinum, palladium, or rhodium. The value of these have shot up during the pandemic.
Howard County police arrested John Edward Emigh Jr. Saturday night after they say he stole one of the parts from a vehicle in an auto park along Dobbin Center Way.
"He’s charged on one case right now and potentially others in the region," said Seth Hoffman, spokesperson for Howard County Police.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau has been tracking the surge in thefts during the pandemic. It mirrors rises in vehicle thefts, car jackings, and break-ins.
They recommend installing anti-theft devices and Howard County police say you can etch your vin number into the catalytic converter or paint it a bright color, but tracking them down once stolen is tough so what’s key, making access to the underside of your car as difficult as possible.
"If you have a garage park in the garage--easy targets," Hoffman said.
It only takes a couple of minutes with the right tool for thieves to remove the part. Police are still working to track down the thieves.
"There are black markets for chop shops. We’re trying to connect the pieces."
It’s important to keep in mind that hybrids, like the Toyota Prius, are at particular risk, because their catalytic converters contain a higher concentration of precious metals. Trucks and SUVs that have higher ground clearance may also be targeted.