April 16, 2007
By Jordan W. Charness
Just in case you were tempted to “borrow” someone else’s car without their permission, you should know that most joy riders are caught by the police. Those who are found guilty of stealing a car are charged with a criminal code offence and are liable to a long stretch in jail.
Notwithstanding all my years as a practicing lawyer, I still believe that the vast majority of people are honest. And of course, there are certainly no more honest people than those who regularly read this column. That being the case I will not go into all the details of how car thieves are caught and what exactly happens to them. No doubt it simply does not apply to you.
Nonetheless there are basically honest people who end up doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. Sometimes circumstances lead them to inadvertently commit a crime and other times people choose to look the other way even though they know that there probably is something wrong with their proposed behaviour.
The first rule to remember is: if something seems to be too good to be true, then it probably is. So if someone offers you a set of tires that are only slightly used at way below their market price, you can be pretty darned sure that those tires were stolen. Not only is stealing tires, or the whole car for that matter illegal, it is also equally illegal to be in possession of stolen property. The penalty is just the same as the penalty for actually stealing.
Make sure that you compare the serial number of the car, which you’ll find on a little plate in the windshield or else on the inside panel near the doors, with the serial number that you find on the registration of any used car you intend to buy. Sometimes thieves and con artists will sell you a car and go to the license bureau and transfer stolen registration papers that have nothing to do with the car that you are buying, which in itself is probably stolen.
A police investigation will often lead to finding the stolen car that you bought. If you truly bought it in good conscience and without knowing that it was a stolen car you may avoid being arrested for being in possession of stolen property. The car however will be returned to its rightful owner. You on the other hand will be without a car and without the money that you paid the thief. Theoretically you could sue the thief in civil court, if you knew who it was and if the thief actually had any assets that you could seize to get yourself repaid.
If you have any doubt at all about the providence of a car or some of its parts, check with the police in your local district or the motor vehicle theft section.
Here’s another situation: somebody offers to make your car disappear so that you may cash in on the insurance. This is usually done for a fee or sometimes just for the car itself. The car owner then reports the car as being stolen to both the police and his insurer.
This fraudulent practice is also a criminal code violation. The code specifically prohibits anyone from intentionally misleading a police officer and causing the police to enter into an investigation by reporting that an offence has been committed when in fact it has not been committed at all. Simply reporting to the police that your car has been stolen when you know for a fact that it was not will certainly land you in jail.
Before the insurance company pays you, they will send out their investigators to make sure that the car was indeed stolen. They will not simply rely upon the police investigation but will often enter into an investigation of their own. If they suspect that you had any part at all in the disappearance of your own vehicle, not only will you not be paid a cent but they will also turn you over to the police.
You can do what you can to help reduce the amount of car thefts in your neighbourhood. Since nearly 20% of car stolen are done at the owner’s residence do not hesitate to call the police to report any suspicious activity that you might observe.
Antitheft devices such as kill switches, car alarms and tracking devices all help reduce the chance of your car being stolen by a joyrider. Professional thieves will probably be able to steal your car no matter what type of antitheft device you install. However since a large number of cars are stolen as a prank or by those who are seizing an opportunity that presents itself, make sure that you do what you can to avoid your car being stolen. This will include keeping your packages out of sight and parking in a well-lit area.