Eagle Rock residents beware—if you own a Toyota Tacoma, it’s more likely than a truck of any other make to get stolen by a group of scammers who falsify the vehicle’s records and sell it for up to $8,000 in the San Fernando Valley.
No less than five Toyota Tacoma trucks have been stolen from Eagle Rock over the past four weeks, according to Detective Susan Carrasco of the LAPD Northeast Division’s auto theft unit. A total of nine Tacoma trucks, manufactured in the 2002-2008 year range, have been stolen so far in the Northeast L.A. neighborhoods of Eagle Rock, Highland Park and Silver Lake.
How The Scam Works
A truck is stolen and its license plates are switched with those of another truck. The stolen truck is then parked on a street for a day or two—to determine whether or not it has a GPS device: If the truck has been reported to the LAPD as stolen, which is highly likely, the police will have tracked it down in about a day, explains Carrasco.
Trucks that lack a satellite-tracking device are parked in the Valley—invariably on streets in the Van Nuys area—and sold to unsuspecting buyers attracted by the “For Sale” signs posted on the vehicle.
The scammers “make up the title to the vehicle, give it a fraudulent registration with a false name and false VIN [vehicle identification number],” said Carrasco, adding: “It all looks completely legitimate.”
Payment for the stolen trucks is usually in cash. “If you give me cash, I’ll give you a better deal,” is what the scammers tend to tell unwary buyers, said Carrasco.
There has been one case so far in which a truck was sold in a Northeast neighborhood instead of being stolen from there: A 2004 Toyota Tacoma was stolen from Van Nuys and sold for $6,000 in June in the Sycamore Grove Park area of Highland Park. “We’re assuming they have some connection to the Northeast area as well as to Van Nuys,” Carrasco said.
Why Toyota Tacomas?
“Right now, it seems to be only Toyota Tacomas—they have a nice body style, I guess,” said Carrasco. “A lot of people want to purchase Toyota trucks because they’re reliable.”
Many of the stolen trucks the LAPD has recovered are silver-colored—“but not for any particular reason,” said Carrasco. “There are just more silver-colored trucks of that model.”
The auto thieves appear to have little trouble getting into the trucks and driving off with them. “We’re not sure how they’re doing this—whether they have a large amount of keys or if they make keys for the trucks,” said Carrasco.
One possible explanation is that the thieves carry keys that are worn out—and therefore similar to they keys that anyone with a car several years old is likely to have.
“It’s a good idea to change your ignition and door locks if you have an older vehicle,” Carrasco advises vehicle owners.
Truck theft is hardly new and has been going on for years. “Two years ago we arrested a group [of thieves] in the Northeast area,” said Carrasco. “It started up again two months ago,” adding: “This isn’t isolated to the Northeast—it’s happening all over.”
The LAPD is working on a few leads but none of the truck thieves have been taken into custody so far, Carrasco said.
Why Eagle Rock—And What Can Be Done?
“Eagle Rock being a nice community, nobody wonders why people are walking around looking at trucks,” explains Carrasco, adding: “There’s just a lot of trucks in Eagle Rock and there’s also more reason why they’d take your license plates there, versus a more heavily populated area.”
One stolen Toyota Tacoma that was sold in Van Nuys had license plates stolen from another truck in Eagle Rock. “The owner had no idea his plates had been switched,” said Carrasco, adding that truck owners whose license plates have been stolen “have no knowledge about it until the police knocks on their door.”
(Carrasco poses this hypothetical question to all vehicle owners: “When was the last time you looked at the license plates on your car?”)
Carrasco urges residents to report to the LAPD anyone who looks suspicious in the neighborhood. “If you have any tips, call the Northeast auto detectives,” she said, offering her unit's direct line: (213) 847-4264. “We just don’t want to prevent this, we want to stop it.”