Illinois catalytic converter thefts are up over 500% since 2019, insurance company says

A catalytic converter theft crew was caught on video as they worked in Avondale in September 2022. | Provided

State Farm, the largest auto insurance company in the country, says that insurance claims for stolen catalytic converters in Illinois have increased by more than 500% since 2019.

That will not be a surprise to Chicago residents. Organized theft crews are running rampant and, despite recent efforts, Chicago police have yet to make a significant dent in the operations.

According to State Farm, it paid out just $651,000 for about 480 catalytic converter thefts in Illinois during 2019. During the first eight months of this year, the company paid out $5.3 million for 2,770 claims. Our state ranks third in catalytic converter theft payouts, behind California and Texas, the company said.

Teams of thieves sell the stolen car parts, which contain small amounts of very expensive precious metals, on the black market.

The slippery crews, who are increasingly armed and willing to shoot people who get in their way, are rarely caught. Thefts, which used to be reported mostly during overnight hours, now occur frequently in the daytime.

And, when someone is found with a couple of dozen severed catalytic converters in their car, Cook County prosecutors have typically charged them only with a misdemeanor like theft of lost or mislaid property.

That changed recently, however, when local prosecutors began filing felony charges of receiving or possessing a stolen motor vehicle against catalytic converter thieves, apparently under a section of state law that makes stealing an “essential part” of a car equal to stealing the entire vehicle.

Meanwhile, there are indications that catalytic converter thieves may be part of a nationwide network that ships stolen car parts cross-country, defeating local efforts to interrupt the sale of the devices.

Cops in Washington County, Oregon, said they broke up a $22 million operation in August that trafficked 44,000 catalytic converters from the Pacific Northwest to recyclers on the East Coast.

Prosecutors there charged 15 men in a conspiracy that allegedly stretched across six states.

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com