Car Owners Handing Keys to Thieves

ByABC News
June 25, 2003, 3:10 PM

June 26 -- Conventional auto thieves might break into a stranger's car, hotwire the ignition and take off, but now many have advantages to streamline the process car keys and directions from the car's owner.

Robert Bryant, of the National Insurance Crime Bureau, says "owner give-ups" where people arrange to have their vehicles stolen for insurance purposes are a multi-billion dollar fraud that's passed on to every driver in higher insurance premiums.

Behind the fraud, Bryant believes, is the popularity of car leasing. Attractive terms make it easy for people to drive expensive vehicles. But with the downturn in the economy, many can't make their payments.

"They need to unload the car because they can't afford it," Bryant said. "And they dispose of the vehicle and then collect the insurance money."

Vincent Ancona, a lawyer in New York City who has represented more than a dozen people convicted of give-up fraud, said most of his clients saw nothing wrong with ripping off their insurance company for tens of thousands of dollars.

"I've had stockbrokers, I've had commodity brokers, I had a chiropractor once," he said. "I've had one individual who was taking an exam for the police department.

"They look at it as sort of that innocent crime same way you and I would look at walking across the street jaywalking," he added. "People find themselves paying a lot of money to insurance companies every year. And those premiums year after year seem to go up instead of going down. And to them, I think it's their version of getting payback.

Regional Variations

In different parts of the country, there are different ways to make cars disappear.

In New York City, cars are taken to illegal chop shops, where the parts are stripped off and sold.

In Miami, owners pay middlemen to dump their vehicles in one of the area's many lakes or canals. Police say in the last few years they've dredged up thousands of cars believed to be give-ups.