“In essence, the vehicles were cloned to look like vehicles that were already exported,” Waterloo Regional Police Service Det. Const. Dan Schaus said.
He said unless the buyer got a vehicle history report, they wouldn’t know the car they were buying was stolen.
The vehicles were “an even mix” of brands, including GM, Ford, Mercedes, Acura and BMW models, Schaus said.
Thieves weren’t targeting new versus used vehicles.
“It all depended on who had the vehicle they needed. It all had to match the vehicle they needed,” Schaus said.
Thieves obtained the vehicles in a variety of different ways, but primarily it was from dealerships, Schaus said.
At least three vehicles were stolen from one new-car dealership that was keeping keys in a lockbox inside the locked new vehicles on the lot. Thieves would break the window of the vehicle and then smash the lockbox to get the key.
“Due to the sheer quantity of product on the lot, it was a convenience for the dealer [to keep the keys in the vehicles],” Schaus said.
Thieves were also renting vehicles, having duplicate keys cut and returning to steal the rental car later.
At one point, thieves even stole an entire auto carrier from a truck stop. It was loaded with seven vehicles bound for used-car dealerships.
“That was pretty brazen. I’ve never come across a case where someone stole an entire car carrier,” Schaus said
To protect themselves, Schaus said all dealerships should keep all their keys in a lockbox inside the dealership. They should also monitor how long people spend on a test drive, and, if possible, send a staff member along on the drive.
Schaus declined to say how many municipalities were affected by the thefts, but confirmed the Waterloo Regional Police, the Toronto Police Auto Squad, Stratford Police, Ontario Provincial Police and the Insurance Bureau of Canada are all involved in the investigation.
“We are confident we have two of the main participants in this criminal activity in custody. But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other vehicles we haven’t been able to recover,” Schaus said. “There are still leads we’re following up on as other vehicles that have been re-identified.”