From time to time, a private investigator may be asked to locate a lost car. A car can be stolen from a public place, a private residence, or a car rental agency.
Types of car thefts:
In times of economic difficulties, because robberies increase. Some people try to steal cars from rental agencies using fake IDs to rent cars, and then they just never return them. Some steal cars for their own use, either for regular daily use or to transport contraband and subsequent abandonment. Some deliver the stolen vehicles to scrapyards, where the cars will be used as spare parts. Some just want a car for a run or a ride, and they ditch the car after using it for a period of time.
Some will sell a stolen car to an unsuspecting person, who has no idea that they just bought a stolen vehicle. Sometimes the owner sold the car in good faith to a person who wrote a bad check. In other cases, a couple may have turned over their second car to a leasing company to cut expenses; however, the car may have been leased to a “customer” who disappeared. Thefts can be for convenience: the thief may have some stolen goods to transport.
No matter what the motive for the theft is, it is up to the private investigator to use his wits to find out what happened and locate the car. It’s always a good idea to file a police report first, but because the police may not be able to take the time to track your vehicle, a good private investigator can be helpful.
How we track the car:
A private investigator will use tools such as phone calls, casual conversations, and interviews. A good investigator knows how to ask questions and statements to gain the most cooperation. Most people are surprised if someone they know has stolen a vehicle and will want to cooperate. The trick is to put all the pieces of the puzzle together and track down solid information that is admissible in a court case.
Investigators can use license plate scanners, GPS tracking that comes with certain cars, handheld devices, car-mounted cameras, or interviews with anyone whose job requires driving, such as delivery workers. IP agencies in some countries may have memberships in professional organizations where information collected from license plate scanners is stored in a database. Surveillance on public streets is generally legal and does not go beyond privacy concerns. A popular technique is to keep a watch list of all vehicles reported stolen by owners and to use scanners to detect license plates of parked vehicles. Since thieves often change license plates, it can take time.
The human element in the form of social media and community alerts can also work wonders. Many people have helped get their own cars back by posting photos of their stolen cars on social media and asking people to share them. It’s never a good idea for a friend to confront a car thief, but it can be really helpful if they take pictures or report sightings of the stolen vehicle without the perpetrator noticing.
Clumsy planning on the part of the thief also helps. Sometimes a thief will forge an ID card to rent a car that will never come back, but will use a real address of someone they know. By interviewing the person whose address was used, the person can recognize the description of the thief and give us clues as to where to find him. We can then conduct surveillance and obtain video of the perpetrator using the stolen car, which will be admissible in court. Once we have enough evidence to appear in court, we can wait for the perpetrator to lie down for the night and immobilize the car with boots before there is any attempt to make contact.
Over the years, private investigators establish relationships with informants. Knowing how to make friends with people who can provide information is gold. Cooperation from all sources is the most important key to solving crimes, and a good private investigator knows how to establish those relationships.
Other sources of information, while not glamorous, are junkyards, car manufacturers, garbage cans on public streets, and hidden cameras in public areas. We can also maintain lists of vehicles with out-of-area registration tags, check the vehicle registration for those tags, and track down the lienholder (lender) of the vehicle. That is public information and we can call the lender to see if the vehicle is stolen.
Another easy way to check if a car is the one we are looking for is to check the VIN number, which is often in the driver’s eye.
Once the car is found, it can be recovered fairly easily and the private investigator and client will agree on the method beforehand. Upon finding the car, it can be started or disabled before the PI does one of three things, depending on what the customer wants: knock on the suspect’s door and ask for the keys, notify the police, or notify the customer. It is never a good idea for the client to contact the perpetrator, but the client could contact the police.
If the client is a business, such as a car rental agency, the client can direct the private investigator to retrieve the vehicle. A two-pee team will drive to the scene, start the car, and explain to the perpetrator who they are and why they are there. The specific vehicle codes that were violated and the jail time or fines attached to those offenses will be cited to the offender. They will be firm but also very professional. Most perpetrators will hand over the keys without too much fuss once confronted. Otherwise, a tow truck can be called to remove the vehicle. This should not be done without strong evidence and without knowing the laws in your area.
How to prevent theft:
Most of the vehicles sold today have key codes or tracking systems like LoJack or Onstar. Some have microdots that label individual parts of the car, so they can be identified if the car goes to a scrapyard. However, professional thieves can circumvent even very sophisticated systems.
The best auto theft prevention devices such as the ignition lock and pedal locks disable the vehicle so it cannot be moved without the correct key. If your car doesn’t come with these devices, you can buy a self-adjusting immobilizer. Always lock your vehicle and park in the safest places you can.
Unfortunately, because thefts are very common. Using reasonable security precautions and keeping a photograph and copies of vehicle registration information can help you in the event of theft. A good private investigator will work for your best interests in the recovery of the car.