Customs officials seize 23 luxury vehicles headed to Chinese black market

Customs and Border Protection officers stopped the export of 23 luxury vehicles that were stolen in the U.S. using identity theft and fraudulent brokering schemes, according to authorities.

Officials said they identified the 11 Mercedes-Benz GLS 450s and 12 Land Rover Range Rovers—with a combined value of nearly $1.9 million—out of hundreds of vehicles exported each day from two warehouses in the Los Angeles/Long Beach port complex where vehicles are processed.

Each of the luxury vehicles got there through one of two schemes, according to CBP spokesman Jaime Ruiz.

In one scheme, the “bad guys” steal a person’s identity using information they bought on the dark web and create a fake version of the victim, complete with a fake bank account, Ruiz said. The fraudster goes to a dealership using that information and buys or leases a luxury car in the victim’s name. Neither the check for the down payment nor the first month’s payment goes through and eventually the bank reports the vehicle stolen.

“In a matter of days that vehicle is in a shipping container bound for China,” Ruiz said.

In the second scheme, fraudsters who call themselves “auto broker agents” invite people to become “partners,” telling them they can make a quick $5,000 or so by buying a luxury car in the U.S. and selling it somewhere else in the world for a profit—often leaving out the black-market element of the story.

They give the individual the money for the down payment and say they’ll cover the payments until the vehicle is sold. The individual hands over the keys and, again, it ends up in a shipping container to China. The business looks legal at first, but the victim ends up with the bill and no car, Ruiz said.

“There’s a black market in China where you can sell a vehicle for twice the price,” Ruiz said. “They do have Mercedes-Benz dealerships, but the ones from the U.S. are more luxurious.”

CBP officers, along with California Highway Patrol and National Insurance Crime Bureau officers, recovered the vehicles through verifying vehicle identification numbers with stolen car reports as loans were not paid to banks.

It’s illegal to export a stolen vehicle or a vehicle that has a lien, Ruiz said.

“By defrauding vehicle dealerships, financial and insurance companies, international thieves negatively impact the economy and consequently the American consumer,” Carlos Martel, CBP Director of Field Operations in Los Angeles, said in a written statement.

The vehicles will go to CHP, who will return them to their rightful owners, Ruiz said.

Support our journalism.

Hyperlocal news is an essential force in our democracy, but it costs money to keep an organization like this one alive, and we can’t rely on advertiser support alone. That’s why we’re asking readers like you to support our independent, fact-based journalism. We know you like it—that’s why you’re here. Help us keep hyperlocal news alive in Long Beach.

Valerie Osier is a breaking news and crime reporter for the Long Beach Post. She’s a Riverside native who found her love for journalism while at community college. She graduated from Cal State University, Long Beach journalism program in 2017 and covered the Palos Verdes Peninsula for the Daily Breeze prior to coming to the Post. She lives in Long Beach with her husband, Steven, and her cat/child, Jones.