Law enforcement says it's being attributed to the COVID pandemic and people who need money. The I-Team investigated a sharp rise in catalytic converter thefts and what you can do to prevent them.
A drastic increase in catalytic converter thefts: The surge in numbers makes Illinois the fifth most-targeted state in the nation, according to the "National Insurance Crime Bureau."
"As soon as I started that I heard the loud sound, and I go 'oh, something's wrong. We're not going anywhere,'" Jerrold Burke told the I-Team.
Thieves stopped him in his tracks.
"I thought that was gonna blow off or something," he said.
They had stolen his catalytic converter.
"I was so sad; I go 'what's going on,'" Burke said.
His Prius was parked in an outdoor apartment lot in unincorporated Des Plaines.
"So I guess the thieves just jacked it up in about this area right here because they have to cut it off, right off the engine, and cut it off right about here," Burke said.
After Burke filed a Cook County Sheriff's police report, he found out he wasn't alone. A detective is working on 12 cases in the area.
Data from the National Insurance Crime Bureau said the thefts are skyrocketing nationwide. In 2019, there were 3,389 reported catalytic converter thefts, but in 2020 there were 14,433.
"You can tie that probably to the COVID pandemic and people need money," said Leo Schmitz, Cook County Sheriff's chief of public Safety.
Schmitz said numbers in unincorporated Cook County show a similar pattern. Last year at this time, there were only eight catalytic converter thefts; this year there's already 25.
Chicago police recently issued alerts about several thefts on the near North Side.
"It can be done in less than two minutes," Schmitz said. "Here they get under a vehicle, or they can cut it out, take it and they're going to get money for the metals, the precious metals in there, platinum to palladium, rhodium."
Schmitz said crooks can get anywhere from $150 to $500 for your converter.
RELATED: Carjacking safety tips: What to do if you're approached by a carjacker
He said you should try to park in a lit area. If you have an alarm, see if you can set it to go off if the car shakes. You can engrave your VIN number into your converter or spray paint it to deter thieves. You can also add a metal cover.
"That goes over the catalytic converter, and has steel wire, stainless steel wires, and things of that nature," Schmitz said.
"If a thief sees it, they may walk on to the next car," said Kimberly Palmer, a personal finance expert at NerdWallet.
She recommends the covers.
"They can be pricey, in the range of $200 to $800, but if your catalytic converter is stolen, it is very pricey to replace," she said. "Three thousand dollars is what we see, so it is worth protecting it."
Burke bought a cover for $150; that cost was on top of what he paid to replace the stolen part.
"He told me about the $900 that was gonna cost to fix it. And I said, 'Isn't that wonderful.'"
But Burke thinks the extra money will save him in the long run.
"They can spend an extra 20 minutes to cut the shield possibly, but they don't want to do that," he said. "They want to be in and out in three minutes."
The problem is so bad legislation has been introduced across 23 states to combat the rise of catalytic converter thefts.
In Illinois there is a pending bill, which would require buyers of converters, like mechanics, to get personal information, including a driver's license, from people trying to sell them off.