Thieves target car after car in SDSU parking lot - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Thieves target car after car in SDSU parking lot

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - Auto thefts are certainly nothing new on the campus of San Diego State, but in this case it's not the cars that the thieves want.

Eight different Toyotas parked on campus were stripped of their catalytic converters. Apparently the platinum and palladium in the converters are worth a lot of money.

SDSU police are on the hunt for thieves who stole nine catalytic converters from cars and trucks parked in lots and structures on Tuesday, hoping to make a quick buck in the scrap metals market.

"We've got 40,000-plus people on this campus on a daily basis, so we're really hoping somebody can come forward with some information as to some suspicious activity that they saw," Capt. Lamine Secka said.

The heists happened during the late afternoon and early evening hours, mostly on the east side of campus. Thieves can sell the devices to metal recyclers for $100 to $200. The recyclers then extract the precious metals and resell it for thousands of dollars an ounce.

Authorities are hoping students and faculty members will be extra vigilant in spotting the suspects if they return.

"They can call 911 from their cell phones, they can also come directly to us, they can use the blue light phones that are in most of our parking lots and structures," Secka said.

Auto shop owner Ray Frey says it takes thieves about a minute to do their dirty work. For his customers, the loss can hit them hard in the wallet.

"I have a Toyota RAV-4 in here right now and it's about a $900 job. I've had them go as high as $3,000," Frey said.

Frey says the most commonly hit vehicles are SUVs and trucks, especially late-model Toyotas. So what's the Kearny Mesa mechanic's advice to protect your catalytic converters from being stolen?

"We weld them in, you can weld plates underneath them. If somebody wants it bad enough, they'll take it," he said.

There is also an aftermarket product called the "Cat Clamp" to help deter thieves. It's a cage installed around the converter, and it sells for about $150.

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