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Are car dealership employees linked to auto thefts in Canada? CTV News investigates


Data from Statistics Canada suggests that a vehicle is stolen every five minutes in the country. Now, police are investigating whether there’s a connection between when and where a vehicle was last serviced, and the date it was stolen, they revealed to CTV National News.

Victims and police share that it is one of the first questions authorities in Toronto ask when someone reports their vehicle stolen.

It’s an "important" piece of information, according to superintendent Steve Watts, the commander of the Organized Crime Unit with the Toronto Police.

"If there’s multiple customers from the same dealership, then that's obviously starting to create a bit of a pattern, so that’s going to inform part of the investigation moving forward,” adds Watts.

CTV News spoke to a number of auto theft victims who insist there's a concerning connection between when their vehicles last went in for service and when they were stolen.

They say their vehicles -- mainly luxury Land Rover and Range Rover SUVs -- were stolen anywhere from two days to a month from their most recent service appointment.

James, who asked we only use his first name to protect his family and his identity, brought his Land Rover in for service in Toronto in early May. On June 20, it was stolen from his driveway.

The whole ordeal was captured on his security camera, and the ease in which they opened the door of his locked vehicle makes him think that his "key was cloned" or copied.

"In any industry there’s bad actors, you could have someone replicating key fobs," Superintendent Watts said.

James adds that "the access (criminals had) is instantaneous. I’ve spoken to many different victims of this crime and they’re saying the same thing."

James, a current Toronto resident, took multiple steps to try and protect his vehicle from being taken.

"We put a steering wheel lock on it, known as a club. We put our keys in a faraday box, and then into another steel box deep inside the house," he told CTV News.

James also had a retaining wall on one side of this driveway, and had parked his other vehicle in front of the Land Rover to try and block it in. None of those steps were a match for the criminals who squeezed the Land Rover out of its parking spot, up and over his neighbours lawn as it vanished into the night.

When police learned that the SUV had recently been in for service, they told him that if he gets his vehicle back, he needs "to repair it and immediately sell it because they’re (the criminals) are coming back for it."

Bryan Gast is a former detective with the OPP and is VP of investigative services at The Equite Association, which investigates fraud on behalf of the insurance industry. He says he wants to be carful not to set off alarm bells, but admits that the truth is "If you take your vehicle in (for service), is there a chance (your key) could get cloned, or they’ll have an insider at the dealership? Yes, it's possible. Is it prevalent? No, but does it happen, yes it does."

Grand Touring Automobiles in Toronto is one of multiple dealerships where victims say their vehicles were serviced before being stolen from their driveway. The high-end dealership also had three vehicles stolen from its own lot last year.

In a statement to CTV News, the dealership's general manager wrote that they "continue to work closely with Toronto Police in their investigations and support their efforts to keep our customers and their cars safe. In parallel with the police, we are also conducting our own internal investigation."

The dealership adds, "We want to assure our customers that we’re part of the solution, not part of the problem. Out of respect for these ongoing investigations, we won’t have any further comment at this time."

Investigators in Toronto haven't charged any dealerships, nor do they believe any reputable ones -- like Grand Touring Automobiles -- are directly linked to any auto thefts.

Watts says it could simply be "one or two individuals in a specific dealership that would have access to client" and "customer information."

The common thread from multiple police services is if there's a window of opportunity to steal a car, criminals will exploit it through attaching tracking tags to a vehicle, cloning keys and even attempting to access and distribute client lists, which include the home addresses of thousands of potential victims across the country.

For James, his Land Rover was found heavily damaged. He says if insurance doesn’t write off the vehicle, he'll be selling it, adding that "there’s no way I’m bringing that SUV back to my home. It's too dangerous." Top Stories

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