(WHAS11) - Police say it's become an epidemic - cars stolen daily from their owners then sold for big bucks at area scrap yards.
In Kentucky, if a car is more than 10-years-old, no title is required and there is no mandatory waiting period.
Investigators say that a new crime wave has emerged because of loopholes in local and state laws.
And while recycling companies say 95 percent of their customers are legit, an increasing number of them are showing up to sell cars they don't even own.
What may look like junk can quickly become lots of green at recycling centers all over Kentuckiana.
“You can take a car in, give them your ID, sell it. There's no questions asked,” said Detective Greg Allen of the Louisville Metro Police Department.
A few years back, clunkers weren't worth much, but today, due to the high price of metal, those same cars will bring at least $500 cash for anyone looking to make a quick buck.
“Those opportunists come out when the markets spike,” said Sean Garber, of Grade A Recycling in Louisville.
“It's gotten significantly worse,” said Allen. “Probably in the thousands a year.”
A theft was recently captured on surveillance video from a Fern Creek car dealership.
The suspect with a homemade wrecker and his accomplice hook up a large truck and haul it off to Grade-A Recycling on Grade Lane.
Police say the same man stole another vehicle from a Circle K parking lot the same night while the customer was inside shopping.
Grade A Recycling helped police identify the suspect in those cases, but it is not always easy.
"An older vehicle that's run down, it's tough,” said Garber.
In Kentucky, you don't need a title to scrap a vehicle that's more than 10-years-old.
And once a thief scraps it, it's often gone before it's reported stolen.
“It's taken to a shredder and in 20 minutes, it's gone. And the person that brought the car in is out with his cash,” said Det. Allen.
Recyclers require picture id's and signed statements, but police say sometimes they ignore obvious clues that sellers might not be legit.
Police say Aaron Nolan, Sammuel Marshall and a juvenile hotwired cars and then drove them to Grade A Recycling almost daily.
Forty-three operational cars were driven across the scales.
Antonio Anthony's car along with everything in it was one of those 43.
“My kids' birth certificates, car seats, a whole lot of items,” Anthony said.
A thief also stole Jane Ashford's 1990 Cadillac Seville from the Missionary Baptist Church parking lot.
“You think church, nobody would come to your church and take your car, but it happened,” said Ashford.
It also happened to the church van.
“We have to sell fish and sell chicken dinners. And we have to really struggle to get vehicles, and then to have them taken like that is really a hard financial burden on a small church,” said Bishop Dennis Lyons.
Last year, one Louisville man was charged with scrapping 17 church vans, taken primarily from small African American churches.
“These vehicles would be used for Sunday school, the elderly, to take our members to the hospitals,” said Lyons.
Recycling centers like Grade A say they are doing all they can to help combat it.
“We spend tens of thousands of dollars annually, not just on computer systems, but in man hours committed to providing law enforcement with the information they request,” said Garber.
Police now frequently patrol areas around scrap yards. In this case they cited the driver of this tow truck for multiple safety violations although the car he was towing wasn't stolen.
But police say they're fighting a losing battle unless tougher laws are put on the books.
“You go rob a convenience store, you might get $300 or $400. Get caught, you go to prison for 10 to 20 years. You scrap a car, steal copper, there's not much penalty. It's a property crime,” said Det. Allen.
Making it easier for opportunists to hook up and haul off your car.
Police say these car thefts are also tied closely to the prescription drug problem.
They say when they are able to arrest someone for stealing and scrapping a vehicle, most of the times the thief has no way to pay restitution because he has already spent the money buying drugs.