COLUMBUS, Ohio — A warning from police about a theft ring, targeting your car.
For weeks now, criminals have been making off with catalytic converters and even entire cars around the Columbus metro area, but they aren’t stopping there.
Tires and rims have become a hot commodity. Thieves are stripping them under the darkness of night from parked vehicles leaving owners deflated.
“Three cars missing tires, sitting on blocks. Nothing I’ve ever seen living in Columbus”, said Viktoria Vasko, a resident in Italian Village.
It’s an alarming sight to wake up to. Tires and rims gone; lug nuts scattered on the ground. The act of brazen wheel thieves.
Surveillance video captured the suspects three weeks ago - lurking in the parking lot of the wonder bread lofts, in the Italian village.
“I’ve lived here for about a year, I’ve never had anything out of the ordinary like that happen before”, said Vasko.
The pair passed over Viktoria Vasko’s car and hit two Honda Accords and a Toyota Camry, leaving them on blocks.
“Security footage showed that they arrived in the parking lot [at] 4:29 a.m.and were out at 4:40 a.m. So they got a total of 16 tires in 30 minutes”, explained Vasko.
Columbus police say it’s a crime of opportunity happening all over the city.
“We do believe in some instances of these thefts, that they are working as a team – and it is a ring of thefts occurring”, said Columbus Police Sgt. James Fuqua
Thefts that Columbus police lump into a category known as property crime, something they admit is on the rise.
“You work so hard to own the property you have. The last thing you want to see, is to wake up and your property is damaged or not there”, explained Fuqua.
Crime stats from Columbus police show from the start of the year to April 11 – Citywide there have been close to 3,000 reports filed for thefts from motor vehicles. With the short north and downtown areas being hotspots. It’s a crime costing victims big bucks.
“it could be several thousand dollars to get wheels and tires replaced”, said Steve Miller. the manager at Grandview AAA Car Care Plus.
Miller says every week, he and his mechanics meet a new victim impacted by these crimes. Left to repair the damage caused by desperate thieves, who he says are looking to make some fast cash.
“Aluminum is a fairly good price. So they are getting money for the wheels. Then they are selling the used tires to a used tire facility. So they are getting money out of both of them”, explained Miller.
It’s a crime not isolated here. AAA Ohio says it’s happening across the country.
“As vehicles become more difficult to steal, the entire vehicle – we are seeing a lot of thieves stealing different vehicle components”, said Kimberly Schwind Public Affairs Director Kimberly Schwind.
Components that may only be covered by insurance, if you have the right coverage.
“If you have liability coverage only on your vehicle, it’s not going to cover it. You need to have comprehensive coverage”, said Schwind
In addition to parking in a garage, or well-lit visible areas, police say purchasing wheel locks can add an extra layer of protection, making it harder for thieves to get away with your wheels.
Police say it is important to report these crimes when they happen, so they can investigate and track patterns. They admit officers may not always be available to respond. However, they say filing a report online or with the telephone reporting unit, is just as official and important.