CBP reports increase in criminals stealing vehicles to ship overseas

If you had your car stolen and didn't report it right away, according to new information released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, there’s a chance the vehicle could be in a shipping container on its way to another country. 

Last month, CBP announced that its Baltimore Field Office stopped nearly 240 stolen vehicles from being shipped off last year. They say this is the third consecutive year that it’s gotten worse.  

"For the transnational for criminal organization, it’s just a revenue stream. It’s just business. However, that business has a dramatic impact, a very severe impact on the vehicle owners, right? Not only emotionally, because no one wants to come out of their house in the morning and see their cars missing from their driveway. But it’s also financial because now without that vehicle, they still have to get to work every day. They still need a vehicle to get to and from work. They’re out of money right now and they’re still paying on the note," said CBP Mid-Atlantic spokesperson Steve Sapp.

Sapp explained for transnational criminals, it’s a race to get the stolen auto into a shipping container and shipped off to another country before a victim reports their vehicle stolen and certain information — like a VIN number — gets placed into a searchable database.

The federal authority says between Oct. 1, 2021 and Sept. 30, 2022, they stopped 149 stolen vehicles from being shipped out at just the Port of Baltimore alone. The value of those cars came in at about $7.4 million. 

CBP says 70 stolen vehicles were intercepted out of the Port of Norfolk-Newport News and a combined 20 were stopped in the ports of Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware.

They say the criminals are targeting taking are smaller to larger SUVs, with the top five vehicles taken the most being:

  • Land Rover Range Rovers (27 recovered)
  • Toyota 4-Runner (18 recovered)
  • Toyota Rav4 (17 recovered)
  • BMW X7 (16 recovered) and X5 (15 recovered)

The top five countries the stolen autos are being sent to are Sierra Leone, Togo, Ghana, Nigeria and Liberia. CBP also stopped a Honda ATV from going to Costa Rica.

FOX 5 checked in with CBP after seeing the conversation on the popular social media page, "KillMoeNews."

One thing Sapp did note is that autos being stolen are not really carjacked vehicles. He explains that it’s because when you carjack and assault someone, you bring on more police scrutiny and the criminals trying to ship off autos are trying to fly under the radar.

Officials are seeing these crimes happening outside homes and dealerships.

FOX 5 previously reported on four autos stolen out of a Silver Spring dealership. The co-owner of that dealership told FOX 5 the vehicles were recovered — one was apparently in a shootout. However, the co-owner also said in another incident authorities did stop a vehicle that had been stolen from them was believed to be on its way to be shipped out.

The co-owner said the thief purchased the car by stealing someone’s identity and using their information to purchase the vehicle. It’s so prevalent, the co-owner says they catch a fraudulent identity at least once a week.

The information comes as in Washington D.C., auto thefts have spiked 116% from this time last year. FOX 5 asked police how much of that figure is due to this shipping theft issue.

MPD Spokesperson Paris Lewbel sent FOX 5 this statement via email:

We have seen a significant increase in stolen autos since the start of the pandemic. This increase isn’t isolated to just Washington, DC. This increase is consistent with what is being seen by other large city police departments across the country.

Here in Washington, D.C., our investigations suggest that a large number of stolen vehicles are being utilized to commit other crimes.

Most vehicles stolen in the District of Columbia are recovered by MPD or by departments in surrounding jurisdictions.  

Year to date, arrests for Motor Vehicle Theft are up 26% and arrests for Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle are up 24%, when compared to the same time last year.

We continue to work with our law enforcement partners in the region as well as our federal partners to investigate stolen vehicles and hold offenders accountable.  

We would also encourage anyone may have any information to assist our detectives to contact us at 202-727-9099 or send us a text message to 50411.

Motor vehicle theft and unauthorized use of a vehicle are different from carjacking, another auto crime. As of Wednesday, D.C. police reported 517 carjackings so far this year, noting 117 year-to-date closures and 67 year to date carjacking arrests.