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Auto theft has Albertans stressed, survey says

Statistics show growing organized crime involvement in stolen cars in Alberta and across the country.
RCMP in Elk Lake pursued a stolen vehicle that was taken while the owner slept in the backseat . The thief left a 'trail of destruction' as it fled RCMP officers Feb. 8.

More than three-quarters of Albertans say the rise in auto theft is causing them stress, according to a new poll commissioned by insurance company Aviva Canada.

Along with fear of losing their vehicle, 77 per cent of Albertans said they were worried about the safety of their families because of auto theft.

Jamie Lee, head of Aviva's fraud division, said the poll was commissioned to highlight how auto theft affects its customers and other Canadians.

"This isn't just an Ontario issue. This is an issue that we've seen increasing in Alberta and in other regions," Lee said.

After several years of decline, auto theft was up 18 per cent in Alberta in 2022, according to Équité Association. During the same period, auto theft in Ontario and Quebec increased by about 50 per cent, largely because of the easier access to international markets that ports in those provinces provide criminals.

Alberta also generally has a high return rate for stolen vehicles compared with eastern provinces. This ratio has been declining in recent years, Lee said, which hints at more organized elements in the province targeting vehicles for export or domestic resale rather than simpler crimes of opportunity like someone jumping in a car left running in the driveway.

In 2022, 84 per cent of stolen vehicles in Alberta were recovered. In 2023, that number fell to 77 per cent, Lee said.

If vehicles aren't being recovered, "they're either being taken by rail and exported overseas or they could be 're-VINned,' where the vehicle [vehicle identification number] is actually being changed on the vehicle and then being sold to an unsuspecting customer."

Swapping the VIN can effectively conceal a stolen vehicle, even allowing it to be fully registered and insured.

"There are ways that the criminals have been able to register the vehicles," Lee said. "And unfortunately, sometimes the customers are unaware until they've taken the vehicle for repair or they may have even been involved in an accident. Or it could even be that law enforcement have seen the vehicle and become suspicious and pulled the vehicle over and identified it as a stolen vehicle."

One in three Albertans also said they would delay buying a new vehicle in 2024 and continue to drive the one they have because of concerns over auto theft.

The Government of Canada held a national summit on combating auto theft earlier this month, which brought together police, politicians and auto industry executives to develop plans to curb the national epidemic of auto theft. Among the actions announced during the summit was an additional $28 million for the Canadian Border Security Agency to conduct more investigations and examinations of stolen vehicles, and the promise to modernize the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, which set the safety and security standards for new vehicles manufactured in Canada.

These standards were last updated in 2007, before the popularization of keyless entry and remote start technologies that are now commonly exploited by car thieves.

"We have seen some positive steps in the right direction with the national summit," Lee said, but we will still have to wait and see what comes of that summit and the changes that will be made because of it.

About the Author: Brett McKay, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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