SHELTON, Wash. – Police believe an organized crime ring could be operating in the area, using a common social selling app to con people out of their cars.
Shelton police said the app OfferUp is where one criminal found two victims in two days this week. They believe it’s part of a larger plot that puts those selling their cars on social selling networks at risk.
In a news release, police said both victims described the suspect as being an Asian male, 5-foot-5, about 200 pounds, with long black hair pulled into a ponytail and shaved on the sides.
“Unfortunately, they gave him the keys and he took off with the cars, never to be seen again and no payments were ever made,” said Shelton Police Sgt. Mike Fiola.
Fiola said the man they are looking for used the app OfferUp to contact people selling their cars. A quick exchange of messages, and he was ready to meet his victims.
“The guy says, ‘Hey, I’d like to test drive the cars to make sure I am buying the right product,’” said Fiola. He then drove off, never to be seen or heard from again.
“They’d been had," Fiola said.
He added that there are indications in both the car thefts that led police to believe this is part of a bigger operation. They believe the suspect is based in Vancouver, Wash.
“I reckon he stopped in every other county on the way there,” said Fiola.
He also said stolen cars will typically turn up within 24-48 hours in another jurisdiction, whereas “these cars are gone.”
“I am thinking that this is not isolated and that this is probably some type of organized vehicle theft ring going on,” said Fiola.
Fiola said this suspect walked up to his victims, a red flag for any buyer.
“If they show up in a car and they are willing to leave a car to test drive yours, that’s maybe a little bit better, but if they show up on foot, please be careful.”
He said sellers should take a photo of any potential buyer’s ID before a test drive.
“He now knows that if I steal his car, the police department is going to get all his information.”
Whether buying or selling a car, Fiola said never shut the door on your safety.
“Do not take test drives with strangers you do not know, it’s just not safe business,” he said. “Meet at a mechanic’s office if you want the car to get checked out that bad.”
One of the cars police are looking for is described as a black 1998 Honda Civic (WA Plate: ATN6949), and the second as an orange 2004 Mazda sedan (WA Plate: AZK6773).
They also remind citizens that they have a “Safe Trade Place” to meet with online buyers at their office, which is covered by surveillance cameras 24/7.
Anyone with information regarding these crimes is asked to contact Shelton Police at 360-426-4441. If you locate or see the listed stolen vehicles, police ask that you call 911 and do not attempt contact with any suspects.