Last year, a motorist used a popular phone directory service to find a local car mechanic, after his car met with an accident on the Eastern Freeway. The directory sent him the number of a Zuber Khan. Khan answered the phone call, took Rs 10,000 in advance, and took the car away. After a few days, he asked for another Rs 30,000 to fix the car.
Zuber subsequently stopped responding to calls from the complainant, and did not return the car. Using a modus operandi hitherto unknown to police officers, he had registered himself under different names on the phone directory service, as a provider of towing and garage services. His modus operandi was exposed after the Mumbai crime branch arrested him. It was also after the arrest that the complainant found out Zuber had previous cases of motor theft registered against him at Sewri, Dharavi, Tilak Nagar and Oshiwara police stations.
Though there has been a minor drop in the number of vehicles stolen in the city – the Mumbai police figures say 3,474 cases of vehicle theft were registered last year compared to 3,738 cases in 2013 – thieves seem to have devised new methods to steal vehicles.
Incidents of motor theft have gone up in the Central region – which includes areas such as Kurla, Mahim, Dadar, Sion, Byculla, Worli – rising from 779 in 2013 to 856 in 2014. Some of these areas have markets which sells stolen goods, better known as chor bazaars.
A police officer said that in May 2014, the Kurla police arrested two men – M Nasir and Alif Shafiq – who would pose as mechanics, steal bikes, and then dismantle them to sell off the parts.
In June 2014, police officers arrested 59-year-old Mohammed Ansari in a car theft case, and learnt that sometimes, specific vehicles are stolen after orders are received from far-flung parts of the country such as Uttar Pradesh (UP), and that nearly four to five gangs are involved in stealing a single four-wheeler and delivering it to its destination. Ansari told the police that on the basis of orders received, they used to pick up vehicles from isolated parking spots, and would then leave the stolen vehicle at a fixed spot.
The second gang would change its number plate and deliver it to Nashik or Aurangabad. The third gang would place it on the state’s borders, and by the time the vehicle reached Uttar Pradesh, the car would have got a new number plate and a different colour. Ansari led the police to six vehicles he stole last year.
While thieves in the past would simply steal the vehicles and sell them off in the chor bazaar in Kurla, in recent times there has been a spurt in inter-state motor theft gangs. Theft on the basis of ‘orders’ received have also increased, and the demand for stolen white coloured four-wheelers rises in rural areas ahead of elections. Officers said that usually, more than one gang is involved in stealing four-wheelers, while bike thefts are usually pulled off by individuals.
Spokesperson for Mumbai Police Dhananjay Kulkarni said gangs from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh specialise in stealing SUVs and that the trend of stealing vehicles and selling parts is also popular among car thieves. “Recently, we tracked a Dhule-based gang which stole and sold parts of trucks and dumpers,” he said.