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Carmel – Police are warning drivers about a significant increase in catalytic converter thefts since 2020.

Now, CBS4 is finding out why so many thieves are targeting vehicles and stealing converters. They are after the precious metals inside. In June 2017, data shows the value of rhodium was at $930 per ounce. In June 2022, rhodium was valued at more than $20,000 per ounce.

The price of palladium increased by 140 percent. It went from $856 per ounce in 2019 to more than $2,000 an ounce in June 2022. Thieves usually steal the converter, then sell it to scrap yards. Sometimes, they can make up to $1,400 depending on which vehicle it came from.

What police are seeing in Central Indiana

Carmel Police said criminals are trying to make a lot of money quickly.

“We’re seeing a lot of these types of crimes happening in very populated areas of vehicles like large parking lots, whether they be office buildings, workout facilities, even at home. Anywhere there is a lot of vehicles parked and a lot of selection,” Lieutenant Tim Byrne said. “It is a very fast process for them to get under the car. Usually, they will use some sort of a power tool, hack through a couple of exhaust pipes and take the catalytic converter. They are able to get in and our really quickly.”

Byrne said the department has been quite successful in catching the people responsible for thefts. He said their detectives use certain investigative tactics to identify the perpetrators and businesses that are purchasing stolen converters.

Still, Carmel PD is urging Hoosiers to be vigilant.

“If you are at home and you can park your car in the garage, that’s going to go a long way to prevent not only catalytic converter thefts but any other thefts from vehicles and unlocked vehicles. If you work in an office or something where there is large parking lot or a garage, if you can park close to a building, usually there are surveillance cameras that may capture somebody trying to steal a catalytic converter,” Lt. Byrne advised.

He also said to keep an eye and hear out in parking lots.

“A lot of times these thieves will target certain types of vehicles. They’ll walk around and try to pick the vehicle that is going to give them the biggest return,” he explained. “Also, listen. If you hear sawing noises in a parking lot, like I said, a lot of times these offenders will use power tools like a Sawzall to cut through the pipes really quickly. If you hear that, call the police.”

If you do become a victim, officers said you should call police right away and leave everything alone. There are ways they can gather evidence, but if your vehicle is tampered with, it may dilute or taint that process.

Crime analysis shows a significant increase in theft nationwide

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, catalytic converter thefts increased 325 percent between 2019 and 2020 and more than 975 percent between 2018 and 2020.

State Farm reviewed its claims data and found it paid out more than $33.7 million in claims between July 1st, 2020, and June 30th, 2021. In the year prior, State Farm said it paid out less than $9 million.

“It’s a serious, serious problem,” Rahvy Murray, a principal agent, added. “Because it all has a cyclical effect when it comes to the rise in insurance rates.”

Murray, who works in Indianapolis, listed several ways consumers can protect themselves.

“Number one, they can have the sensitivity turned up on their alarm system if they have one that adjustable. If the vehicle has an air ride suspension, lower it to the lowest height. That way it’s harder for them to get a jack under the car,” he said.

Murray suggested drivers check their insurance policies to make sure they have comprehensive coverage. That kind of policy will cover theft.

“If you carry just liability only on your car, unfortunately, you’ll be responsible for the full replacement and the labor costs involved in the catalytic converter,” he explained. “It could be thousands of dollars.”

Is your car an easy target?

Carfax looked at service reports for catalytic converter replacements across the country and found the top ten most targeted vehicles. The company added, though, that the order of that list changes depending on location.

CBS4 was surprised to hear thieves could make so much money off catalytic converters taken from hybrid vehicles.

“They have a limited production run when it comes to their motors because it’s a gas and an electric motor, so those devices tend to show less wear,” Murray explained.

The NICB said the most converter thefts happened in California, Texas, Illinois, Ohio and Georgia.

The top five cities where insured thefts were reported were Chicago, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Indianapolis.

The NICB’s data also indicated catalytic converter thefts peaked during the summer, especially in July. They often happened on Mondays, compared to any other day of the week.

Lawmakers are cracking down on the problem

Indiana legislators recently passed new laws to try and curb catalytic converter thefts. The sale of stolen converters recently became a felony crime.

Another new law will take effect in July. It will limit cash transactions on catalytic converters to $25 per day.