HOUSTON — As the price of metals is rising, so is the number of catalytic converter thefts.
Few places in the Houston area are immune to the crime, which can cost car owners thousands of dollars to fix.
Nonetheless, thieves continue to make money from this style of crime. The law enforcement officials KHOU 11 News spoke with said it's getting worse.
“I’m an eighth-generation Houstonian. I’ve been living here all my life, so it’s really hard to see how people could prey on older persons,” Gail Smith said.
Smith's catalytic converter was stolen from her Honda while it was parked at her senior living complex.
“It does not feel good at all," she said.
It’s been almost a month, and the vehicle is still in the shop.
“They did a lot of damage up under there,” Larry Smith said. “They cut some wires and everything under there.”
On a Saturday morning in early February, neighbors said two men in a black truck pulled into the parking lot of the senior living community in Sugar Land.
One of the men crawled beneath Smith's SUV, and with two cuts, removed the catalytic converter.
“That’s how it always happens, they just come, ‘click, click, click’ and then they’re gone,” Larry Smith said.
Luckily, a neighbor was watching from her balcony and scared them away.
“We’ve got to pay a $500 deductible and they want more at the Honda dealership for fixing it,” Gail Smith said.
Dennis Laviage, the owner of C&D Scrap Metal, has been in the business for 43 years. In that time, he’s seen his share of catalytic converters.
Catalytic converters aren’t much to look at, but it’s what’s inside that matters.
“The cones in here are what have the palladium, platinum and the rhodium and all of the alloys that make up the catalytic converter,” Laviage said.
In order to buy a catalytic converter, scrap dealers are required to perform an exhaustive number of steps to ensure its legitimacy.
“I have to put the markings on it, paint them, we have to have a copy of their driver’s license, we have to have two signatures, two fingerprints, a copy of who weighed them, who paid and pictures of what you sold,” Laviage said.
For Laviage, he’d rather not have to mess with it.
“It’s a lot of trouble and I don’t want to deal with anything that may have been stolen,” he said.
But not every scrap dealer is as cautious.
“I will tell you this, there’s a lot of companies in Houston that will buy these, out in the county, in the city, they may not be so kosher on them,” Laviage said.
He doesn’t think the thefts will be slowing down anytime soon.
“How do you stop it?” Laviage said. “You’re never going to stop it.”
Police said one of the ways to prevent your catalytic converter from getting sold on the black market is to paint them or engrave the last four digits of your social security number on them.
That’s not so easy for everyone.
Although they’ve made multiple arrests in the past two months, Sugar Land police said they’re seeing an increase in catalytic converter thefts this year.
The Smiths are just grateful the thieves were stopped before they made off with more.
“It’s getting hard for seniors citizens,” Gail Smith said. “Older persons like myself.”