Catalytic converter thefts declining in Illinois, State Farm says

Chicago police released this picture of catalytic converters seized during a single investigation this summer. | Chicago Police Department

(The Center Square) – Illinois remains third in the nation for catalytic converter thefts, but State Farm Insurance has good news to report. The company has handled 14,500 claims for stolen converters this year, down 8,500 from last year.

“We’re seeing a significant decrease both in the number of claims and in the amount paid,” State Farm spokeswoman Heather Paul told The Center Square.

Illinois ranks just behind California and Texas for the number of thefts handled by the insurance company. It received 1,300 claims worth a total of $2.9 million from Illinois policyholders during the first six months of this year, according to the company.

Illinois reported over 3,880 catalytic converter thefts last year, totaling $8.3 million, Paul said. The total catalytic converter thefts are higher, though, since these figures only reflect State Farm customers.

Theft reports remain well above the number seen in 2019. The company said it paid out just $651,000 for about 480 catalytic converter thefts in Illinois that year.

Paul suggested a COVID connection to the spike in thefts, which may result from cars sitting longer during lockdowns and becoming easy prey to any thief with a few minutes and a hacksaw. Catalytic converters are prized for the precious metals they contain, which can bring thousands of dollars on the black market, Paul said.

Paul attributes increased public awareness through the media and new laws that make it harder to profit from theft.

“Several years ago, most people didn’t even know what a catalytic converter was,” she said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has also signed laws that make it difficult to sell a converter without documentation and reduced the sale price to under $100, she said.

People can take precautions to protect their cars as well, Paul said.

If there’s no garage available, she said, “probably one of the biggest pieces of advice is to park in a well-lit area.”

Other suggestions include a video-camera surveillance system, etching contact information, or a vehicle identification number into the catalytic converter. If stolen, the converter will be difficult to pawn off. Lastly, she recommended making sure car insurance is comprehensive enough to cover this type of theft if it should occur.

Federal and local arrests

Chicago police and federal agents have also brought charges against major catalytic converter theft operations over the past year.

When Chicago police arrested two men and seized 211 catalytic converters in June, it was the culmination of a nearly year-long investigation.

Cops in Washington County, Oregon, said they broke up a $22 million operation last summer 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.

Back in Chicago, CPD said in March that they found six catalytic converters inside a stolen car suspected of being used in a string of armored car robberies. In January, the police themselves fell victim to thieves who stole five catalytic converters from trucks used by CPD’s mounted unit.

That same month, a group of Chicago residents was accused of traveling to Pittsburgh to steal more than $200,000 worth of catalytic converters from vehicles.

But, rather than target cars parked on residential streets, the group decided to take the easier route by simply going to car dealerships and taking the catalytic converters off of vehicles offered for sale, a Pennsylvania newspaper reported. One chain of dealerships had 35 catalytic converters stolen from Mitsubishi Outlanders. Total damage: $124,000. Another $20,000 worth of catalytic converters were stolen from tow trucks.

Two of the accused men were the subject of a CWB Chicago report eight years ago after they were found in a van with 24 stolen catalytic converters on the North Side. They all received probation for misdemeanor charges in that case.

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