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LA-area truck-theft ring targeting Toyota Tacomas

August 11, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Police think a recent rash of truck thefts in Southern California is part of large money-making scheme.

Toyota Tacoma pickup trucks are being stolen in northeast L.A. and San Fernando Valley neighborhoods. But police say the thefts aren't for parts. The thieves are actually trying to resell the trucks to make some quick cash.

It's a popular work truck in hot demand by thieves, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

"In the last month we've had about 10 Tacomas stolen," said LAPD Detective Jeana Franco.

KABC-TV newswriter Kevin Warner had his own Toyota Tacoma stolen.

"I was driving home with my wife. We got to a stop sign and she said, 'Look, there goes somebody with your truck,'" said Warner. "When I called my insurance guy, he told me he had a client with the identical truck stolen the same day as mine, and he said he sees these kinds of trucks being stolen all the time."

"I believe that it is organized," said Franco.

Auto-theft detective Franco says thieves work fast to resell the stolen Tacomas. Often they replace the license plate of the stolen truck with one from a vehicle not stolen. That helps delay detection while they "spiff up" the ride, try to improve its curb appeal.

Warner's truck was recovered with what some may call "enhancements."

"I got a couple of stickers put on the window. They fixed my CD player, which had been broken for a couple of years," said Warner.

The showroom for the Tacomas: major thoroughfares in Highland Park, Echo Park or the Valley. The trucks are parked with a sign, a cellphone number and an attractive sale price.

"Usually, maybe $2,000 under [Kelley] Blue Book. So you think you're getting a great deal," said Franco.

A great deal until the buyer goes to the DMV with what turns out to be a counterfeit pink slip and finds out the truck is stolen. It's a scam that has spread.

"Orange County, the Valley, L.A. County, and they are selling them to unsuspecting buyers on the streets," said Franco.

Buyers are urged to check the vehicle identification number (VIN). The DMV or your police department can help you verify that the VIN matches the license plate. And beware of bargain deals that can end up costing you plenty.

"They are out 6- or $7,000 and that's a lot of money to anybody," said Franco. "This is just a scam and there's a lot of innocent victims being targeted."

Tacoma model years 2005 and older appear to be targeted. PreRunners are reportedly the most attractive to thieves.

Anyone with information about the theft of the trucks should contact Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-TIPS.

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