Auto theft and illegal vehicle sales are on the rise in Ontario as the auto industry continues to deal with low inventory and supply chain issues, according to the province’s car sales regulator.

At a news conference at Toronto police headquarters on Thursday morning, the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council (OMVIC), Crime Stoppers, and the city’s police service launched a crime prevention campaign to address the growing issue of illegal vehicle sales in the Greater Toronto Area.

“The objective of this partnership is to raise awareness about the issue of illegal motor-vehicle sales in Ontario (and) how to best protect yourself as a car-buying consumer while working to improve the safety of the communities that we live in,” Maureen Harquail, the CEO and registrar of OMVIC, told reporters.

Harquail said police and OMVIC are working to combat crimes involving so-called “curbsiders,” who she identified as individuals who sell cars illegally while posing as private sellers. She said curbsiders pretend that they are selling a personal vehicle but in reality, they are buying and selling many vehicles for profit without a licence or registration. Some of the vehicles curbsiders obtain are stolen, she said. 

“Curbsiders often misrepresent the vehicles they are selling, which can result in consumer harm. Curbsiding is an issue that is on the rise due to low vehicle inventories, the soaring cost of cars, and continued supply chain disruptions,” she said.

OMVIC, a non-profit organization that enforces the Ontario Motor Vehicle Dealers Act, estimates that at least 30 per cent of all vehicles listed as “for sale by owner” online are posted by curbsiders.

She said in 2022, members of OMVIC’s investigation team, who are appointed as provincial offences officers, laid 2,115 charges, more than double the number of charges laid in 2021. She said more than 1,000 of those charges were laid against alleged curbsiders.

“The increase in curbsiders has resulted in a steady rise of consumer complaints to OMVIC about odometer rollbacks, poor vehicle condition, and significant non-disclosure issues in private sales,” she said.

“Private sales of motor-vehicles are not covered by the Motor Vehicle Dealers Act so there is nothing OMVIC can do to help consumers who are defrauded by curbsiders.”

The shortage of vehicles and high demand in the province has also led to a spike in vehicle theft, she said, adding that about 50 per cent of stolen vehicles are exported. The remaining vehicles are given a fake vehicle identification number (VIN) and sold illegally to private buyers or, in some cases, registered dealers.

“Some of those dealers are victims of fraud themselves, while others are complicit,” Harquail said.

Harquail noted that while there is nothing wrong with private sales in the province, buyers must do their due diligence.

“With the increase of private consumer sales, including Marketplace and Kijiji, it is easier than ever to sell motor-vehicles to unsuspecting consumers, often enticing them with prices that really are too good to be true,” she added.

“On these private consumer sites, it is difficult to know if a vehicle has been stolen, if it is safe to drive, or if it has been tampered with.”

She said the safest bet is to purchase a vehicle with a seller that is registered with OMVIC, adding that the non-profit organization has a compensation fund for people who are defrauded.

For those who do choose to buy privately, she said they should be sure to get a Used Vehicle Information Package from Service Ontario.

“(It will) give you that knowledge about where that vehicle has been,” she said.

As part of the new campaign, an anonymous crime reporting platform has been set up so members of the public can provide tips to police on illegal vehicle sales in the GTA.

“Auto theft, however it is happening, whether it be through fraud, carjackings… we are taking notice and we are creating the awareness that we need in the community,” Sean Sportun, the chair of Toronto Crime Stoppers, said at Thursday’s news conference.

“In order for the Toronto Police Service to be more effective at their jobs, we need the community to start reporting things. When tips come into Crime stoppers, you remain anonymous… but it could be key information that, from an OMVIC perspective, could… peel that onion back to something greater.”