Metro Vancouver Crime Stoppers is urging anyone targeted by fraudulent auto loans to contact them anonymously following what it calls a wave of crimes involving mostly high-value vehicles.
Lenders who finance auto loans in B.C. and car dealerships report being increasingly targeted by organized criminals seeking fraudulent car loans this year, a statement from the non-profit crime watchdog said Wednesday.
Since December last year, Scotiabank alone has reported 24 such cases in B.C., most of them since mid-March when the COVID-19 outbreak began, it said. Many other Lower Mainland banks have been hit by the same crime.
The spike in cases is likely due to the increased need to avoid face-to-face customer interactions, which criminals have used to their advantage, the statement said.
"All we want from you is your information," said Linda Annis, executive director of Metro Vancouver Crime Stoppers, in a plea to fraud victims.
"You'll never be called back by police, you'll never have to go to court and you could be eligible for a cash reward," Annis said.
Crime Stoppers said the financial losses arising from this type of crime drive up consumer loan costs at lending institutions and can affect an identify theft victim's credit rating.
How the crime happens
The fraudsters' vehicles of choice are typically worth $80,000 or more, according to Crime Stoppers.
The loan is typically applied for online or over the phone, and the fraudster uses stolen identification such as a fake driver's licence with an image of the fraudster superimposed over the real photo.
Crime Stoppers said because many financial transactions and requests are now done online, banks and credit unions often never meet the applicant in person.
It's only when loan payments start defaulting, or the identify theft victim starts getting loan demand notices, that the bank and dealership realize what's happening.
The watchdog said by that point, the car has usually been sold to another victim or it's been exported overseas for cash.
Losses to consumers and banks have reached $1.5 million to date, Crime Stoppers said.
"Maybe you know where the fraudster lives, or you're connected somehow to the crime but want it all to end," Annis said.
Anyone wishing to report this type of crime can leave an anonymous tip by calling Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477, or by reporting online at solvecrime.ca.