Ontario’s Peel Regional Police (PRP) in collaboration with Équité Association have prevented more than $350,000 of insurance fraud by disrupting and dismantling an auto theft ring, the southern Ontario police force reported Wednesday.
As part of the investigation dubbed Project Memphis, nine high-end stolen vehicles valued at more than $1.2 million were recovered, PRP said in a press release. Twelve individuals were arrested and charged with 81 counts, including trafficking in stolen goods and fraud over $5,000, among others.
The individuals were charged and released with conditions and will appear at the Ontario Court of Justice in Brampton at a later date.
Project Memphis began in March 2023, when PRP was “provided information of a possible re-vinned vehicle,” the police force said in the release. Re-vinning refers to the act of changing a vehicle identification (VIN) of a stolen vehicle to a fraudulently fabricated number to conceal the fact the vehicle is stolen.
“Investigators determined some of the stolen vehicles were being re-vinned, fraudulently re-registered and sold in Mississauga,” PRP said. “In some cases, the accused attempted to defraud multiple financial and insurance institutions. Various investigative tools were used to identify multiple suspects, recover these stolen vehicles and prevent insurance fraud.”
Investigators from PRP 11 Division Criminal Investigations Bureau and the Commercial Auto Crime Bureau worked in collaboration with Équité Association on the complex, multi-faceted Project Memphis. “The success of this investigation was a testament to effective collaboration and the shared goal of disrupting criminality of all kind,” said PRP Chief Nishan Duraiappah.
The high-end vehicles recovered included:
- 2 Range Rover Sport SUVs
- 2 Ram 1500 pick-up trucks
- 1 Bentley Bentayga
- 1 BMW M5
- 1 BMW X5
- 1 Porsche Panamera
- 1 Jeep Wrangler
Auto theft remains a serious concern for Canada’s P&C insurers. Last year, the industry saw $1.2 billion in losses from auto theft — the highest amount ever. Diligence will be required to prevent that figure from repeating, Bryan Gast, vice president of investigative services at Équité Association, told Canadian Underwriter recently.
“The first half of 2023 was trending higher than 2022,” he said. “We’re not out of the woods yet.”
Last year, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) arrested 28 people and laid 242 charges following a nearly two-year, multi-jurisdictional investigation nicknamed Project MYRA that targeted rings of organized car thieves. The thieves altered VINs, then re-registered and sold the cars privately to unsuspecting customers.
Like Project Memphis, MYRA involved re-vinned high-end vehicles. At the time, the OPP said they’d recovered 214 vehicles worth more than $12 million. But those numbers could change, Gast said at the time.
Last week, the Ontario government said it would provide $18 million over three years to help police services combat and prevent auto theft. The money will be used to acquire specialized resources (including surveillance equipment, software and GPS tracking devices), provide specialized training to police investigators and create new units dedicated to auto theft, among other initiatives.
“IBC believes a whole-of-society approach is necessary to help end auto theft and we are encouraged by the Ontario government’s commitment to create a provincial auto theft team with dedicated prosecutorial support to strengthen provincial capacity to police and deter organized crime’s involvement in auto theft,” Insurance Bureau of Canada’s interim vice president for Ontario said in a statement.
Feature image by iStock.com/GoodLifeStudio