RENO, Nev. -- For the past month, local police have been investigating a rash of catalytic converter thefts. They've been keeping an eye on area motels, looking for those who've been stealing the expensive parts. Reno Police caught a group of thieves in the act as they were tearing apart vehicles.
"I've seen them in groups and not just here in Reno, but also the bay area. There are groups of people who will come in and commit this kind of crime," Lieutenant Bill Rulla from Reno Police Department said.
Vanna Vin, 26; Yuitha Soth, 19; Phuong Hoana Dong, 31; and Mariya Loera, 20 were caught red-handed and arrested.
The Bay Area based quartet were spotted around the La Quinta Inn and Best Western Motel on Market Street trying to steal the expensive part from another car.
"We're going to be investigating to see if this crew is related to the thefts we've had this last month and a half," Lt. Rulla said.
The charges they face include grand larceny, conspiracy, possession of burglary tools, identity theft and drug possession.
A similar situation occurred last year also involved California-based criminals, and police say they expect it will happen again.
"It's kind of a trend. You see it pop up and a year will go by and it'll stop," Lt. Rulla said. "Some of these crews are from the Bay Area coming over the hill and committing these crimes."
It's five minutes of work for a high payoff--crooks are melting the metals in exchange for $300-$500 in cash, which is only a fraction of their worth.
"It cost $4,00, which a lot of people don't have anymore," Gwen Baden, victim said.
Baden started her car one morning and immediately knew something wasn't right.
"It made a huge loud noise and I know I didn't hit the muffler or anything so I called Toyota and then they told me it's a catalytic converter," she said.
She's one of more more than 15 victims in the past month and a half. Sadly, there isn't a sure-fire way to protect your car. Experts say the best deterrent is to weld the devices on the vehicle, but the group arrested last night were caught sawing them right off the cars.
"It doesn't matter year of car, it doesn't matter anything. They're just randomly watching for people, looking for people even in the daytime," she added.
Another way to protect yourself is to park your car in secure locations. The biggest targets are Dodges, and Toyota 4Runners.