Fake credit cards and the equipment used to create them can be bought off the Internet for less than $1,000. This equipment was used in the Orange County, Calif., theft ring operation that stole 42 rental cars. It was recovered by the Orange County Auto Theft Task Force.
Loyalty rewards programs are designed with convenience in mind — in one case, all too convenient for a car thief.
By using fake credit cards and stolen drivers’ licenses, a woman in Orange County, Calif., engineered the theft of 42 rental vehicles in 2012 from a major rental car company. After joining the company’s loyalty rewards program, she successfully carried out the first transaction at the counter with fraudulent documents.
The suspect then made additional rental reservations online through her rewards program account. This allowed her to bypass the rental office and walk straight to the reserved rental cars — with the keys in them — and drive off.
According to CHP Detective Kraig Palmer of the Orange County Auto Theft Task Force (OCATT), that lack of face-to-face customer interaction is one factor that could have prevented so many rental cars from being stolen.
“We found that a single person can’t obtain this many rental vehicles without being a loyalty or VIP member,” said Palmer. “The crooks really like not having to actually talk to somebody or show their face.”
If the perpetrator had to go into the office for each rental and used different aliases and faked credentials every time, she would have been eventually recognized, Palmer says. In this case, she was able to rent as many vehicles as she could before the credit cards were discovered to be fraudulent.
When leaving the lot, the suspect relied on the fact that the security guard would only check to make sure that the name on the rental contract matched the driver’s license. Ironically, “We got a big break in the case because the [lot] security guard remembered the suspect and noticed a pattern,” says Palmer.
The perpetrator targeted higher end rental models such as Chevy Tahoe, Yukon Denali, Nissan Maxima and Mercedes-Benz E-350, while avoiding higher profile exotics. Once she rented the cars, she sold them or rented them out to gang members for criminal activities.
To better conceal the cars, the woman and her accomplices tinted the windows and removed the license plates as well as any bar codes and “no smoking” stickers that associated the vehicles with the rental company. According to Palmer, some of the cars even contained fraudulent DMV paperwork that listed the rental company as selling the car to the driver.