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Information of hundreds of drivers trafficked in auto-theft ring involving ServiceOntario employees: police

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Toronto police say the information of hundreds of drivers in the province was trafficked to suspects allegedly running an auto-theft ring involving employees at ServiceOntario.

The investigation, dubbed Project Safari, was launched in February with the goal of identifying and arresting suspects behind “numerous” motor vehicle thefts throughout the city.

According to a news release issued Wednesday, investigators discovered the suspects were conspiring with employees at ServiceOntario – a government agency where Ontarians get their driver’s licences, licence plates, and other vital documents.

Police said an undisclosed number of employees trafficked the Ministry of Transportation’s driving and vehicle data, including hundreds of addresses, to the suspects.

The suspects, of which police say there are seven, then allegedly used that information to steal vehicles and link them to fraudulent vehicle registration numbers in a process known as re-VINing. Those fake VINs were also allegedly provided by the ServiceOntario employees.

The stolen cars were then sold domestically to unsuspecting buyers as used vehicles or used to commit other crimes, according to police.

Investigators said they carried out 25 search warrants at residences, commercial garages, and ServiceOntario locations between July and October and seized several stolen and re-VINed vehicles and equipment used to steal vehicles.

Police also said officers seized roughly $1.5 million in cash and luxury vehicles.

Service Ontario office in Kingston, Ont., on March 23, 2016. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

The suspects, who all hail from the Greater Toronto Area, are facing a combined 73 charges in connection with the bust.

The charges include fraud over $5,000, tampering with a vehicle identification number, breach of trust by a public officer, and trafficking in identity information.

A full list of the suspects involved and the charges they face can be viewed here.

In light of the incident, Toronto police issued several tips to those purchasing used cars.

Buyers should perform due diligence in obtaining detailed vehicle history reports, police said, and be wary if the car is a different colour or has an inconsistent odometer reading from the report, they said. 

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