Auto theft investigators say they’ve busted a “high-tech” ring of North Texas car thieves who hacked into newer-model Nissans, made their own electronic keys, and sold the cars to unsuspecting buyers.
“It can happen so fast,” said Commander Brian Sudan of the Tarrant Regional Auto Crimes Task Force. “We’ve seen thieves who can hack these cars in less than three minutes.”
The ring stole more than $1.2 million worth of cars from the streets of North Texas, some of them virtually brand new, police said.
“It’s very high tech,” Sudan said.
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Sudan didn’t want to give too many details on how the thieves were able to drive off in new cars but said they worked with used car dealers to get clean titles.
They do it by replacing the vehicle identification numbers so nobody knows it's stolen, he said.
The number on a stolen 2020 Altima, for example, really belonged to another Altima which was found on a salvage lot to be sold for scrap.
Police have identified up to 62 stolen vehicles but suspect there are more. Only a small number have been recovered, Sudan said.
Gustavo Torres, 33, the alleged ringleader of the operation, was arrested.
Investigators searched three used car dealers in Dallas who took the stolen cars and sold them to unsuspecting buyers.
"They have no clue they are buying a stolen car," Sudan said.
So two people claim to own the same car.
"We run into some very sticky situations,” he said. “Somebody bought this car, paid a lot of money for it. And then there's a person who lost this car and lost a lot of money."
Sudan said the courts will have to decide the rightful owners.
He said there is little owners can do to protect their cars from getting hacked and stolen but did suggest locking doors, parking in well-lit areas and in a garage if possible.
As for used-car buyers, Sudan suggested researching the title and if it shows the car has been salvaged, it may indicate a problem.
While this car theft ring targeted Nissans, he said other thieves have learned how to hack into other brands such as General Motors.