Police still frustrated by hundreds of high-end Toyota, Lexus thefts

It's a trend the Ottawa Police Service has been dealing with for years: reports of stolen Lexus or Toyota trucks. And according to the force, their success rate in solving the crimes hasn't been great.

Recovery rate 'has not been great,' says OPS

The Ottawa Police Service is warning owners of high-end Toyota or Lexus SUVs and trucks, like the one pictured above, that they've been dealing with a rash of thefts since 2020. (Submitted by Ben Shusterman)

When Ben Shusterman recently made his way to the driveway of his Crystal Beach home, the last thing he expected was to find his brand new Toyota Tacoma missing. 

"We just had no idea where it was or how it was gone," he said.

Shusterman works as a construction foreman and said that along with the truck, thieves also made off with all his tools inside. He estimates the value of what was stolen to be nearly $60,000.

"It was very upsetting," Shusterman said. 

"It's more of a loss than people think, because it's invasive. And you feel violated that somebody's come and taken something from you just because they wanted it" 

Ben Shusterman says thieves recently stole both his new Toyota Tacoma and all the tools he had inside, an estimated value of $60,000. (Submitted by Ben Shusterman)

More than 200 reports last year

According to police statistics, Shusterman is one of hundreds of high-end Toyota or Lexus owners in the Ottawa region who've had their vehicles stolen from their driveway in the middle of the night.

It's a trend the Ottawa Police Service has been dealing with for years. OPS received over 200 reports of stolen Lexus or Toyota vehicles in 2020. There have already been 35 reports filed this year.

OPS said the neighbourhoods of Crystal Beach, Kanata and Orléans seem to be where most of the thefts occur, with many people having vehicles stolen more than once.

"For the most part, the owners are completely unaware until they wake up in the morning to get ready to go to work," said Const. Doug Belanger with the force's central investigations unit.

Thieves break into the SUVs or trucks and are able to reprogram a new key into the vehicle's computer, Belanger said. They return 15 minutes later, hit the start button and drive off, usually in the middle of the night.

Ottawa police say there were more than 200 Toyota vehicles stolen in 2020. At least 35 have been stolen so far this year. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Overnight thefts 'particularly frustrating'

It's suspected that most vehicles are sent to Montreal, destined to be shipped to Africa or the Middle East where they'll be sold, Belanger said.

Police have been using "traditional techniques" to try to catch thieves and recover stolen vehicles, but success has only been mixed, he added.

"The recovery rate, despite all the efforts that we have been making, has not been great," Belanger said.

"What's particularly frustrating in a lot of these cases is because these are happening in the overnight, the owners aren't aware ... there can be a substantial lag of many hours before the theft is reported to police."

'Sophisticated groups' suspected

Police aren't identifying any suspects, but Belanger said it's likely the work of "very sophisticated groups" able to use technology to not only steal the vehicles but avoid being tracked.

OPS have been working with both the Insurance Bureau of Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency to curb the problem, and Belanger said owners can take measures themselves to protect their vehicles.

People should park in a garage if possible and use motion activated lights and cameras, Belanger said, while also considering car alarms or devices that lock their steering wheels.

Finally, if there's damage to their vehicle, particularly to door handles, it could be a sign someone has tried to break in, he said.

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