South Carolina Car Dealerships See Series of “Steal and Return” Auto Thefts

What’s a guy to do if he wants to test drive a new car, but doesn’t want to give it back right away? If you’re the “person of interest” in a series of car thefts from dealerships in Orangeburg and Sumter Counties, South Carolina, you simply swap the cars among dealerships when you’re good and ready.

According to local news sources including ABC Columbia, law enforcement personnel in those counties are warning dealers about a series of curious thefts in which an unknown man pretends to be a car shopper to get the keys to vehicles for test drives but does not return the vehicles. Instead, he returns the stolen vehicles to other dealerships before stealing a new car. The man has reportedly committed the same crime numerous times across the state. Police have blurry video of a man wearing a white ball cap, but no clue to his identity. In one of the videos collected by police, the suspect is seen leaving a Walmart in Manning, South Carolina. Law enforcement is warning dealers, particularly those in Orangeburg County, to be wary.

According to the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office, in the latest incident, the unknown man stole a vehicle from a Sumter dealership and drove it to Beaufort, where he left the vehicle and drove off with another new car. His M.O. is to get the salesperson talking, and when the employee asks for his driver’s license, he changes the subject, then asks for a test drive. To date, none of the stolen and returned vehicles have been damaged in any way. The vehicles chosen by the thief have all been new cars.

In addition to Orangeburg and Sumter counties, there is evidence that the “steal and swap” thief has been spotted in Jasper and Clarendon counties, according to a sheriff’s office spokesman. The spokesman also said that police believe the thief will focus his next efforts on dealerships in the South Carolina Midlands now that he’s stolen two cars from the Lowcountry area, according to Columbia newspaper The State.

Members of the public with information on the thief are being urged to call OCSO 803-534-3550 or Crimestoppers at 1-889-CRIME-SC.