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International Trafficking in Stolen Vehicles (From Crime and Justice: A Review of Research, P 197-227, 2003, Michael Tonry, ed., -- See NCJ- 202743)

NCJ Number
Ronald V. Clarke; Rick Brown
Date Published
31 pages
This article examines trafficking in stolen cars as an international problem.
Until recently, the export of stolen vehicles seemed to be confined to the Americas. But it is no longer a distinctively American phenomenon. Current estimates from different countries suggest that half a million vehicles are stolen and sold abroad each year. Clear differences in preferred models exist among recipient countries. The pattern is the same no matter what vehicles or countries are involved. The principal flow is from developed to less developed countries. There are two reasons for giving research priority to vehicle trafficking: (1) there is rich data readily available on vehicles and vehicle theft; and (2) this could be of real assistance in reducing the problem. According to current estimates, half a million or more cars are stolen and exported each year. The method of estimating the size of the problem is the same everywhere, relying on estimates made by police and other experts of the proportions of unrecovered stolen vehicles that are exported. These estimates are too crude to inform policy. They are based on the recovery rates of all models of cars. Estimates of the cost of trafficking in stolen cars are also deficient. The specific conditions that facilitate trafficking in stolen cars include the vast numbers of cars that cross national borders every day; the huge volumes of containers shipped from many ports; the legal trade that exists between countries in used cars; and the inability to control the illegal import of cars that have not been stolen. Auto theft in developed countries is declining but trafficking in stolen cars will probably not be affected by this trend because improvements in vehicle security provide little deterrent to professional thieves, and the demand for stolen cars in developing countries, fueled by increasing globalization, is unlikely to end. Apart from more information about the scale and nature of the problem, the most urgent priority for research is to uncover the methods by which traffickers circumvent registration and licensing requirements, and avoid detection at customs and border checkpoints. 2 tables, 10 footnotes, 73 references