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SA vehicle crime, the R8.5bn problem crippling the SA economy. What’s being done about it?

A staggering R8.5 billion worth of vehicles are stolen and hijacked in SA annually. The majority of these, almost 30%, are taken across the border to neighbouring countries where syndicates are making huge profits and South Africans are footing the bill.

In a recent presentation to business leaders, Hugo van Zyl, CEO of the South African Insurance Crime Bureau (SAICB), spelled out the reality of the situation. He pulled no punches, identifying leaders of some of SA's largest companies in a call to action. He provided alarming insights into the evolving mechanisms related to vehicle crime and corruption, and the financial impact these have on the country.

Van Zyl identified that, “Cloned vehicle and cross-border syndicates are a growing concern, thanks to our porous borders and the fact that crime prevention stakeholders aren’t yet pooling resources effectively. Data sharing is the key.” His was an impassioned appeal for business and crime prevention unity. "If we stand together now, we will win."

Of the R8.5 billion vehicles stolen, R4.9 billion's worth are taken across the border; R3.1 billion stay in SA as cloned vehicles and R514 million end up in chop shops across SA.

To make matters worse, last year approximately 39 000 vehicles re-appeared into the system, costing a fortune for the insurance industry to pay out claims where they were unaware that these vehicles were in fact cloned. When you insure a cloned vehicle, insurance companies don’t have to pay out because the incorrect vehicle is reflected on the books.

In the recent past criminals have targeted dealerships, stealing directly from showroom floors and wash bays. Today, tech-enabled syndicates have upped their game and have the ability to take over the identity of the vehicle owner in numerous scams. Panelbeating shops fall prey to this, as criminals impersonate the vehicle owner, pay the excess of the claim at the shop and drive off with the vehicle.

Social media is proving a fruitful channel, too. When people complain on the facebook page of the OEMs and manufacturers they receive an email from the “official” website of the manufacturer saying they will collect the vehicle and repair it for free. Members of the syndicate arrive and the owner never sees his vehicle again.

Van Zyl cited further trends on the rise being the hijacking of trucks, “yellow metal” vehicles, trailers and cargo, accident staging, and false documentation sophistication. Exotic sounding scams like, “hula hoops” – where a vehicle owner who cannot afford the repayments any longer, arranges with criminals to take the vehicle off his hands for a small amount, but then lodges a fraudulent claim for the hijacking of his vehicle at the vehicle’s full value, as well as “phantom passengers” – falsely claiming that a passenger was seriously injured in an accident, are also ominously prevalent.

By the same token, he also shared the positives – the increased involvement from SAPS, SANDF, and SADC countries, the pound clean ups in Gauteng, Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland, and vehicle testing stations and Provincial Vehicle Crime Forums (PVCF).

When it comes to technology, vehicle tracking and micro-dotting companies, car rental companies and banks are playing a big role. “Partnership between micro-dotting and tracking companies are starting to make inroads and this is an example of taking a stand together”, says Van Zyl.

Ron Knott-Craig, Executive Operations Director at leading vehicle intelligence safety company Tracker, explains that, “There are indeed many ways to effectively partner to combat crime. Our relationship with the SAPS has resulted in over 13 000 arrests and the recovery of some 67 000 stolen and hijacked vehicles. Our vehicle intelligence data gives us insight into the operations of these syndicates and more importantly, their modus operandi. Sharing quality data with crime prevention bodies will hugely assist in piecing together the full picture. Furthermore, we need to develop a more entrenched culture of collaboration between the private and the public sector, the media and members of the public.”

We have no choice but to come together in the fight against crime. With vehicle safety technology available to individuals to keep safer and a more coordinated effort to share data and information between the likes of the Financial Intelligence Centre, the National Prosecuting Authority, SAPS, The Assets Forfeiture Unit, the Road Accident Fund, and the Dept. of Transport we can make great strides against criminals. The time to act is now.

By Michael van Wyngaardt, Executive, Tracker Business