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Thieves Drawn To Catalytic Converters For Metals

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Frank Scafidi, spokesman for the National Insurance Crime Bureau, discusses a rash of catalytic converter thefts in many cities with NPR's Jacki Lyden.


The allure of gold may not be as strong for commodity-savvy criminals who've set their sights on another target: catalytic converters. Thieves are attracted to the platinum, palladium and rhodium found in the converters, which reduce auto emissions.

The crime was uncommon until early 2008, when the price of those precious metals spiked. Their value is rising again, and news reports suggest that the catalytic converters are once again a popular target for criminals.

Frank Scafidi is a spokesman for the National Insurance Crime Bureau, and he joins us from Capital Public Radio in Sacramento, California.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. FRANK SCAFIDI (National Insurance Crime Bureau): Thank you, Jacki. Thanks for having me.

LYDEN: So where exactly are we seeing spikes in catalytic converter theft? I suppose in cities with big auto traffic.

Mr. SCAFIDI: There are recent episodes in Baltimore, Maryland, in Texas, in Colorado, and some in Illinois. So thats all the confirmed recent reports. However it's sporadic, but they continue over the last several years, for sure.

LYDEN: How does it actually work? How does a thief approach a car and steal the catalytic converter?

Mr. SCAFIDI: The easiest thing for them to do is to find one that doesnt require jacking the vehicle up at all. So we find most of our victims are owners of SUVs or pickup trucks, vehicles that tend to have more of a ground clearance. So these people can simply just slide up underneath the vehicle, find the converter and just cut it away from the exhaust pipe, and they're gone in no time at all.

LYDEN: And so it must be lucrative. I mean what does one sell for on the black market?

Mr. SCAFIDI: Well, thats where it gets interesting because there are one of three precious metals that are used in each converter, and that depends on the converter. And every kind of vehicle has certain kind of catalytic converter and these things are rather standard size for a small sedan and much larger for bigger vehicles. So there's going to be different amounts of those three kinds of metals within each converter.

So let's say there's - I mean just grams - Im not sure what the weight is, but it takes a bit of that material to make it lucrative to somebody. But when those prices on some of these metals were approaching nine, 10 thousand dollars, as they were a couple of years ago, that makes it very attractive for all the parties.

LYDEN: Hmm. Is there anything that can be done to make it more difficult to steal a catalytic converter from your car?

Mr. SCAFIDI: There are a lot of devices that have come on the market since this episode has reached the news, and you see things where people can go and buy these devices to put on their exhaust pipes. Really, when you boil it all down, the number of events around the country are not that significant. But like you(ph) say, if it happens to you, that is a problem.

LYDEN: Thank you. Frank Scafidi of the National Insurance Crime Bureau joined us from Capitol Public Radio in Sacramento, California.

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