Mexico's motor vehicle protection association says that car theft is the second most profitable criminal business in Mexico, after drug trafficking. While it certainly is a major problem, the association may be exaggerating.
The vice president of the vehicle protection association, known its Spanish acronym ANERPV, said car theft pulls in $11 billion worth of profits per year for criminal groups, Animal Politico reports.
This is compared to a range of estimates for the profits from Mexico's drug trafficking trade. As noted in a 2012 US Congressional Research Service report, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) estimates that the industry is worth some $22 billion, while the Department of Homeland Security puts the number between $19 billion and $29 billion. Another oft-cited figure by the Rand Corporation states that the amount of annual drug trafficking revenue flowing from the US back to Mexico is no more than $6.6 billion.
Mexico's national insurance association counts a total of 90,000 vehicle thefts in 2012, a little more than half of which have been recovered. This is a slight increase from last year, when some 85,510 vehicles were reported stolen. According to ANERPV, 60 percent of the vehicles stolen in 2012 were cargo trucks and the rest were automobiles.
According to ANERPV's numbers, Mexico is the state most affected by car theft, followed by Nuevo Leon and Mexico City. As the newspaper La Jornada reports, city officials in Mexico City complain they have fallen victim to over 500 vehicle robberies so far this year, few of which have been recovered.
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It is in the interests of ANERPV, an association of car protection businesses, to cast the problem of vehicle theft in the most dire light. Just as it is difficult to come up with a reliable estimate on the total worth of Mexico's illicit drug trade to the United States, ANERPV's $11 billion statistic should also be taken with a grain of salt.
Another issue is that not all reported car thefts may be actual robberies. Some are fraudulently reported as stolen in order to pursue an insurance claim, or else are traded in to "chop shops" where they are disassembled and sold for individual parts. In the US, for example, some 10 percent of all reported car thefts are thought to be fraudulent. In Nuevo Leon, the state government was recently accused of tolerating a mass license plate theft ring, one indication of the kind of official corruption that frequently co-exists with the car theft business in Mexico.