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County task force warns public about auto theft, extortion scam

City News Service

The San Diego Union-Tribune

May 10, 2020

The scheme targets members of the local Latino community, according to the San Diego County Regional Auto Theft Task Force

The San Diego County Regional Auto Theft Task Force is warning the public about an auto theft/extortion scheme that has been victimizing members of the local Latino community for several months.

To carry out the scam, the perpetrators post job listings on social media sites, searching for Spanish-speaking drivers interested in transporting large sums of money from the San Diego area to Los Angeles County, often for supposed payments of several thousand dollars, according to RATT.

When an interested party calls, the perpetrators — believed to associates of an organized crime gang based in Mexico —make assurances that the purported driving job is legal and direct the victim to a meeting spot in southern San Diego County, generally near the U.S.-Mexico border.

Once there, the victim is told to surrender his or her vehicle so it can be loaded with money somewhere else. The perpetrator then takes the vehicle — sometimes after displaying a gun — and immediately drives it into Mexico, never to be seen again by the owner.

Some of the victims of the scheme have subsequently been contacted by the thieves, who tell them to wire funds to a bank account if they want their autos back. Those who have agreed to the demand lost that money along with their vehicles.

The perpetrators primarily have targeted Los Angeles residents who own late-model SUVs and pickup trucks, though not exclusively, the task force reported.

Investigators have documented 17 instances of the scam, with cumulative losses totaling about $475,000, according to RATT.

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