People wonder what happens to all of the cars taken by Chicago’s booming vehicular hijacking industry. Many of the cars are dumped after being taken for a joyride. Others are used to commit other crimes. And some, it seems, are being sold online.
That’s according to allegations prosecutors laid out in Ronnell Banks’ bond court hearing.
Last August, a 28-year-old man saw a 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee offered for $7,000 on Facebook Marketplace. The man met up with Banks and paid him in cash for the car and title, prosecutors said.
But when the buyer took the Jeep to a mechanic, he learned that the vehicle identification number (VIN) on the dashboard was fake, according to the state.
Detectives determined the Jeep had been stolen in a carjacking, prosecutors said. Investigators continued to work the case. Earlier this month, they saw a 2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee offered on Facebook Marketplace by the same account that sold the allegedly carjacked SUV to the victim last summer.
They also determined that the VIN on the car being sold this month tracked back to a car dealership in Florida. That dealership reportedly told police that they still had the car belonging to that VIN on their lot in the Sunshine State.
So, cops offered to buy the newly-offered Jeep. Around noon on January 7, Banks allegedly drove the Jeep to meet with undercover cops on the Walgreens parking lot, 501 West Roosevelt, in the South Loop. He allegedly told the cops that he owned the Jeep.
But after inspecting the vehicle, detectives determined it had been reported stolen. Police arrested Banks. And the man who contacted police about the first transaction identified him as the person who sold him the carjacked Jeep, prosecutors alleged.
Banks has four felony convictions, all for narcotics violations, prosecutors said. He’s charged with theft by deception, selling a stolen motor vehicle, and driving on a suspended license. Judge Susana Ortiz released Banks on his own recognizance with electronic monitoring.
The process of replacing a stolen vehicle’s public-facing VIN with numbers from legally-registered cars is called “retagging” or “VIN cloning.” And it’s a fairly common ruse.
Buyers should be cautious when buying vehicles via online listings or person-to-person transactions. Here’s a report about the scam and how you can avoid becoming a victim.