, NAIROBI, August 13 – Motor vehicle theft has gone a notch hire, with a sophisticated crop of thugs reining the industry.
They rarely use guns to obtain vehicles from motorists.
This new group, mainly operating in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and Eldoret is targeting Car Hire firms.
Posing as customers, the thugs present fraudulent identification cards and driving licenses and non-existent telephone numbers.
With this documentation, and having made the necessary payment as required, the “clients” simply drive off with a vehicle of their choice.
They leave no traceable trail at the hire firm.
Records obtained from motor vehicle tracking units and the police show that at least five such cases are reported every week.
Police say the robbers seem to prefer the “hired” vehicles because documents obtained from car hire firms enable them to cross borders with ease.
“Many of these vehicles are stolen and transferred to neighbouring countries. That is why they prefer them because they don’t have to explain much to authorities at the border. They just present the hirer’s agreement to justify the possession,” Richard Katola, the head of the Special Crime Prevention Unit said.
“There is an increase in those cases. Last month (July) alone, we recorded 18 cases of vehicles stolen from car hire firms in Nairobi and Mombasa,” he added.
David Sang’, the Operations Manager at Track It said the last week of July was the worst for car hire firms.
Sang’ said six vehicles stolen during the month involved their clients.
“We managed to recover all the vehicles,” he said.
According to Sang’ four of the saloon cars were ‘hired’ from Mombasa and later recovered at the Kenya-Tanzania border.
The other two, he said, were four-wheel driver vehicles which were stolen from Nairobi.
In both instances, he said, the customers hired the vehicles for between two and three days but did not return them.
“These are vehicles which were hired by people who purported to be genuine customers but failed to return the vehicles as scheduled. Our customers were unable to get in touch with them through telephone numbers provided and therefore notified us,” he said.
Well established car hire firms have secured their vehicles with tracking equipment.
“Once they notify us, we activate our gadgets and are able to locate the vehicles within the shortest time possible,” Sang said.
“In the cases we handled in July for instance, he said, four of the vehicles were destined for Tanzania, one of the ready markets in the region.”
Tracking companies operate hand-in-hand with the police with whom they operate in recovery of vehicles.
“We have been able to recover many vehicles and arrested suspects. The latest incident involved two suspects and a woman who claimed the vehicle had been sold to them. The case is pending in court,” SCPU boss Richard Katola said.
Some stolen vehicles are never traced because of delay in reporting, and the thugs cross over to neighbouring countries where they easily dispose of them.
“This hampers our operation because of the process of applying to get through the Immigration department and involvement of the International Police (Interpol),” he said.
Another Police officer at the motor vehicle recovery unit of the Flying Squad headquarters in Nairobi blames the car hire firms’ managements for failing to tighten their hiring rules.
“Some of these firms are still hiring their vehicles out without subjecting their customers to thorough scrutiny,” the detective said.
Individual hirers are usually required to produce their original National Identity cards and Driving Licenses for verification before copies are obtained from the same.
Most car hire companies, however, do not insist to have original copies of the two documents.
Officials approached in three Car Hire firms in Nairobi did not wish to reveal more about their operations or theft cases in their organizations.
According to Police and motor tracking officials, new Japanese saloon cars and four wheel drive vehicles are major targets.
Such vehicles have ready markets in Tanzania where their import documents are quickly processed before they are sold to unsuspecting customers.
Police say they recently traced two stolen vehicles to Tanzania where they found them already sold and registered with the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA).
Those found with the vehicles claimed to have bought them.
“The two cases were filed in court and to date, the vehicles have not been released to us because the cases are being handled in Dar es Salaam,” a senior police officer said.