Sometimes, thieves are stealing cars just to get from point A to
point B, Costa Mesa Det. Mitch Phillips said.
In one recent case, Phillips said, someone stole a man's pickup
truck while he was fueling up at a local station. Realizing his phone
was still in his truck, the owner called his own phone.
"The guy answered the phone and talked to him," Phillips said. "He
said, 'I just basically need a ride to Santa Ana. You'll find it in
this area when I'm done,' and told him where to find it."
Sure enough, Santa Ana police tracked down the truck as promised,
Last month, 42 cars were reported stolen in Costa Mesa. During the
same period last year, 32 were reported.
Usually the number reported peaks around 15 or 20 a month,
Costa Mesa often sees an increase during school holidays, he said.
Many schools' spring recesses coincided with the latest spike in car
thefts, he said. The thefts don't appear to be part of an organized
ring, he said.
About 60% of the cars stolen are used for joyriding or for
transportation, Phillips said. They are often dumped once the gas
runs out, and they are found in Costa Mesa, Santa Ana, San Diego or
further afield, he said.
In March of this year, 12 stolen cars were recovered in the city
and another 15 in other cities.
Roughly another 20% of thieves steal cars, then strip them and
sell their parts, he estimated. The rest steal for fraudulent
purchases, he said.
Increasingly, more sophisticated car thieves are targeting car
dealerships, especially those with plenty of gas-guzzling SUVs that
are slow to move off lots right now, Phillips said. But rather than
sneak in and steal cars right off the lot, they apply with fraudulent
In one case, a purchaser bought an SUV after supplying only basic
personal information, a reference from an employer and a check from a
third party, Phillips said. The check bounced and the dealer reported
the car stolen when they couldn't track down the buyer.
Those cars often end up south of the border in Mexico, where large
SUVs and trucks are popular he said.
"Fraud and identity theft is an increasing issue," said Paul