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WRPS recover 45 stolen vehicles set to be shipped overseas

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Waterloo regional police have arrested eight people they believe were working together as part of an organized criminal network to steal vehicles in Waterloo Region and Guelph.

Officers began the investigation in June of this year, WRPS Deputy Chief Jen Davis said at a news conference Friday.

Thieves targeted high-end SUVs and pickup trucks – specifically Toyota Highlanders, Lexus RX350s, Chevrolet Suburbans, GMC Yukons, Chevrolet Tahoes, and Dodge Rams – using reprogramming technology to make off with the vehicles.

“It is believed these vehicles were stolen with the intent of shipping overseas for criminal resale,” Davis said.

Police said officers intercepted several at the Port of Montreal.

“There was a Middle Eastern country on one of the manifests I believe,” Staff Sgt. Ian Kerr told reporters. “And we know for a fact that Africa is a big consumer of these vehicles.”

As part of the investigation, police executed search warrants at homes in Cambridge, Guelph, Paris, Brampton and Mississauga, Davis said.

Eight males between the ages of 17 and 26 were arrested. They’re facing 92 charges combined and have been released on bail.

In total, 45 stolen vehicles worth around $3.1 million dollars were recovered.

The thieves would canvass neighbourhoods at night to pinpoint what vehicles to target using reprogramming technology.

HOW DO REPROGRAMMING THEFTS WORK?

Thieves force entry into a vehicle, then use an electronic device to access diagnostics. From there, they can reprogram a blank key fob, start the vehicle and drive away.

"We are seeing a higher number of the reprogramming thefts along the 401 corridor, so that Cambridge area, Doon Road area, and really it does come down to accessibility to the 401," Davis said.

While relay thefts – when criminals capture the signal from a key fob inside a home – used to be more popular, police say reprogramming thefts are now the preferred method.

“The problem with organized crime is the profit margins are so high right now that for every fix there is, they’re going to spend all their resources and time trying to get around it. So essentially what ends up happening is when we get a technology, they defeat the technology,” Kerr said, adding police and car manufacturers are trying to find solutions to reprogramming thefts, but once that happens, thieves may just move on to a different method.

HOW TO STOP REPROGRAMMING THEFTS

Police provided these tips to prevent reprogramming thefts:

  • Park your vehicle inside a garage, or block your vehicle in with another vehicle.
  • Purchase a device to block the access to the vehicles onboard diagnostic port
  • Use a steering wheel lock
  • Equip your vehicle with an aftermarket GPS tracker. GPS systems that come standard with some vehicles are frequently disabled by suspects, rendering them ineffective.

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