Stolen Vehicle Intercepts are on the Rise at US Ports

stolen cars caught at US ports
Photos courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Published Nov 19, 2020 4:05 PM by The Maritime Executive

While most attention that port security gains is focused on the importation of illegal goods, contraband, and narcotics, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) also conducts outbound cargo examinations at the nation’s ports. One of the items that they are seeking are stolen vehicles being shipped overseas.

CBP reports that among the methods criminal organizations are using is car theft looking to sell them in overseas markets. To do this they need to quickly export the stolen vehicle to get it away from US law enforcement.

Nationwide, CBP Office of Field Operations reports that it recovered 1,082 stolen vehicles between October 2019 and September 2020. Of those cars, 833 were destined overseas, with the majority (89 percent) destined to West African nations, including Benin, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.

The number of stolen car interceptions is on the increase, according to CBP. For example, the Baltimore field office cited a significant rise in the past three years. They recovered 100 stolen cars in 2018, a record 246 in 2019, and 157 this last year. That compares with just 41 stolen cars recovered in 2015, 14 in 2016, and 43 in 2017.

“Transnational criminal organizations use stolen vehicles as a form of currency to fund their illicit enterprise and it is incumbent upon us to disrupt their trade in stolen vehicles through rigorous outbound cargo examinations,” said Casey Durst, Director of Field Operations for CBP’s Baltimore Field Office. “Import and export examinations remain a critical component to Customs and Border Protection’s border security and trade facilitation missions.”


The newest vehicle recovered was a 2020 Maserati Ghibli valued at $78,485 - Photos courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection


Just over half of all the cars reported stolen came from the Mid-Atlantic states. This included New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, plus Washington D.C.

The recovery of stolen vehicles is also largely happening along the east coast of the United States. The top five states for the recovery of stolen vehicles -- Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia, New York, and Pennsylvania – represented nearly two-thirds of the recoveries.

CBP’s New York Field office, working the Port of NY/NJ area, made the greatest number of recoveries. In the past year, they recovered 310 stolen vehicles. This represents an increase over the 257 stolen vehicles the office found in 2019.

The Baltimore Field Office, which includes the ports of Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Wilmington, was second in the number of recoveries with officers intercepting 157 stolen vehicles that were being shipped overseas during fiscal year 2020. The estimated value of the cars was nearly $5 million.

The officers in the field office reported that the majority of the cars were recovered in the port of Baltimore area. In 2020, they found 152 stolen vehicles outbound in Baltimore while just five outbound vehicles were recovered in the port of Wilmington area.


Land Rover recovered by offices in the Baltimore Field Office - Photos courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection


As for the types of cars CBP reports finding, two-thirds are sport utility vehicles, with the highest valued being a 2019 Land Rover Range Rover destine to Guinea which they valued at $114,175. The newest vehicle recovered was a 2020 Maserati Ghibli, destined to Jordan valued at $78,485.

CBP officers routinely examine outbound vehicle documentation for authenticity and compliance, and compare vehicle identification numbers (VIN) to stolen vehicle reports. Officers also ensure that all vehicles comply with existing U.S. laws and regulations and recovered cars are turned over to local police for investigation.