High rewards with very little risk : Why officials say catalytic converter thefts are hard to prosecute

Published: Jul. 3, 2022 at 8:27 PM CDT
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BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) -Catalytic converter thefts continue to be one of the fastest-growing crimes across the area.

Texas ranks second in the nation for catalytic converter thefts after California.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, catalytic converter theft claims jumped 325% in a single year. Thefts increased dramatically in 2021, and NICB noted 52,206 thefts in 2021, an increase of 1,215% since 2019, and up 203% since 2020.

It’s a crime that can happen in just minutes, and the aftermath can cost you a pretty penny. Despite arresting and catching thieves with the stolen property officials say prosecuting the thieves poses a huge challenge because in most cases it’s hard to prove the parts are stolen.

Brazos County District Attorney Jarvis Parsons says it’s a growing problem. He says, unlike stolen vehicles, matching the stolen catalytic converters to a victim often makes it difficult to prosecute thieves for the crime.

When asked to estimate the number of cases that go unprosecuted he says the vast majority.

“I would say probably 90 to 95%,” said Parsons. “In prosecution, we have to find the stolen property and find the owner. We have to then match the stolen property back to the particular owner. So we may find a catalytic converter here in town that may be stolen from out of state or out of the county.”

It’s a crime law enforcement officials and the district attorney are working to put an end to but say taking proactive steps by vehicle owners can help.

Daniel Armbruster with AAA Texas says some simple, inexpensive prevention tools can help save you money in the long term and could help police with investigations.

“Consider having your VIN number, your vehicle identification number etched onto the catalytic converter. It may not necessarily stop thieves from taking it, but it does help police track it and it can help in an investigation,” said Armbruster.

Armbruster says if you want to take prevention to the next level there are catalytic converter kits that can ve used to safeguard your vehicle.

“One of the things you can do is weld your catalytic converter to your vehicle’s frame which makes it harder to steal. It takes more time to break it off,” said Armbruster.

Tully Lehman with the National Insurance Crime Bureau says the value of the precious metals inside catalytic converters makes the crime so enticing to thieves.

“NICB data shows a strong correlation between catalytic converter theft trends and the value of the precious metals. Catalytic converters contain high-value precious metals, specifically rhodium, palladium, and platinum. The values of these metals have skyrocketed and currently are Rhodium: $13,100, Palladium: $1,847, and Platinum: $890 as of June 30 said Lehman.”

Lehman says larger trucks and hybrids usually top the list of targeted vehicles.

“Typically, thefts of catalytic converters tend to be from bigger vehicles like large pickups and delivery vehicles. These trucks are targeted due to higher clearance and therefore easier to get to the catalytic converter. These vehicles are often used as fleet vehicles which often attract thieves as company trucks are usually stored in yards and are left unattended overnight allowing a criminal to go in and remove a few in very short order,” said Lehman. " Hybrids are also a major target as these vehicles contain two catalytic converters as well as the fact that as a hybrid, these converters tend to see less wear (corrosion) than those of other vehicles with equal miles, and therefore more valuable to thieves.

Catalytic converter thefts by month graphic courtest of the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Catalytic converter thefts by month graphic courtest of the National Insurance Crime Bureau.(KBTX)

Lehman and Parsons both say underreporting of thefts is an issue.

“It is important to know that catalytic converter thefts remain grossly unreported. Some victims do not report the theft to insurers. Similarly, not all victims report the theft to law enforcement,” said Lehman. “The reasons why victims do not report include: the cost of repair is less than or only marginally higher than the deductible. Victims treat the theft as a maintenance issue and the Victim does not have comprehensive insurance to cover the loss.”

“It’s important to report it to the police so that when that happens, the police when they’re doing research and doing investigation they may be able to find a police report, even if it’s in another city or another state, so they can liaison with law enforcement and then get you back the catalytic converter so you can get on your way.”

According to the NICB In 2022, 36 states introduced new or carried over existing legislation from 2021. This includes 151 catalytic converter bills introduced with 19 bills being enacted and signed by governors.

In 2021 Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 4110, which makes it a felony to buy or sell stolen catalytic converters.

Consumer Tips to Prevent Theft

The NICB recommends vehicle owners:

• Install a catalytic converter anti-theft device. These are available from various manufacturers and can provide a level of security from theft.

• Park fleet vehicles in an enclosed and secured area that is well lit, locked and alarmed.

• Park personal vehicles in a garage. If not possible and vehicles must be parked in a driveway, consider installing motion sensor security lights. While lights may not provide complete security, it may make some thieves think twice, making them leave the area and your vehicle untouched.

• Call local law enforcement and your insurer should you become the victim of a catalytic converter theft.

With #CatalyticConverter thefts skyrocketing across the country, legislators are hard at work trying to crack-down on...

Posted by National Insurance Crime Bureau on Thursday, April 21, 2022

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