Feb 06 2024

What are Repo gangs and are they targeting your insured vehicles?

...and what is the potential impact on claims?

What is Repo?

Repo gangs are groups of thieves who operate within specific localities, stealing cars, scooters and motorcycles with the intent to either joyride then destroy them, or to sell them on, often to others in the community. The main difference between repo gangs and standard vehicle thieves is that they film themselves committing the theft, joyriding and destruction where applicable, and post these videos to social media.

TikTok is the platform of choice for repo gangs as it prioritises short-form video content, requires little to no identifying information and the algorithm will not necessarily block illegal content, especially if it contains the tags ‘performed by professionals’ or ‘fake situation’. This allows these gangs to post their content and avoid moderation or identification for as long as possible. Interestingly, TikTok does sometimes embed a warning at the bottom of these videos, stating that ‘participating in the activity could result in you or others getting hurt’, or, more concerningly, includes the embedded caption, ‘the actions in this video are performed by professionals or supervised by professionals’.

In terms of the locations that these gangs operate in, there are a number of hotspots identifiable from social media posts. Unsurprisingly, we see hotspots around major cities such as Manchester, Birmingham and Nottingham, but also in smaller locals such as Kirkby-in-Ashfield, Warrington, Hull and Preston. While these gangs are careful about covering their faces and avoiding any video angles which might identify where they live and store the vehicles, they are much less careful about identifying where they operate. In many cases, they have also posted screenshots from news articles and social media posts regarding their thefts, in order to generate clout within the repo gang community online. Examples of this type of video have been included below.

Likewise, most repo gangs on TikTok are unconcerned about identifying the vehicles they have stolen. Number plates are rarely covered, and videos following the thefts often include 360-degree tours of the vehicle. This enables these videos to be used for claim validation purposes, which will be discussed later in this blog. Motorcycles and scooters are the main vehicle type which is targeted by repo gangs, likely due to limited security measures in place and the nimbleness of the vehicle making for an easy getaway. Presently, no specific model has been identified as being targeted above others, but this may change during 2024, both as security measures change and as social media trends change.

What behaviours have we seen?

During our searches into repo during 2023, we have identified a number of key behaviours. We see repo gangs refer to their thefts as ‘graft’, and based on the fact that these gangs are active both during the day and through the night and that some vehicles are sold on, it is possible that this is their main form of ‘employment’.

A main component of repo gang TikTok are videos of the perpetrators stealing and joyriding the vehicles. Depending on the account, some give out tips and suggestions to other perpetrators in the comments, explaining how they were able to steal the vehicle, and whether it is for sale. These videos show the perpetrators driving through towns, sometimes pursued by the police, and usually riding with other members of the repo gang, either as pillion or on other vehicles. One such video has been included below. From the videos posted in 2023, there does not appear to be a consistency to where stolen vehicles are stored prior to either re-sale or destruction – some members store the vehicles in back gardens or alleyways, others in wooded areas, and others in garages.

If not sold on, then repo gangs might abandon the vehicle after joyriding it or may otherwise destroy it. We have seen numerous videos during 2023 of motorcycles being burnt, usually in wooded areas, as shown by the below. Similarly, vehicles may also be abandoned, like the second video below. If abandoned, then the owner may have the opportunity to reclaim their vehicle, but it is far more likely for vehicles to either be sold on or to be totally destroyed. It is possible that these vehicles are burned so that the repo gang can avoid identification, or for the clout from other repo groups online.

Vehicles that are not destroyed or abandoned may be sold, with payments taken via CashApp in order to protect the seller’s identity. Due to the content of these accounts, the buyers are aware of the provenance of the vehicle itself but are evidently unconcerned by this. Snapshots documenting this type of comment have been included below.

Repo and Claims Validation

While it may be unlikely that the perpetrators involved in repo gangs can be identified through social media searches, these videos do create other opportunities. Most importantly, repo datasets can be used for claim validation and confirmation of vehicle loss. If you’ve had a claim for theft of a motorcycle or scooter come through, it may be worth getting in touch with the VRN in order to ascertain whether it has been featured in any repo gang videos online. If it has, we may have videos of the theft, joyriding and destruction of the vehicle, or confirmation that attempts have been made to sell it on. This can corroborate the insured’s account of the theft and provide confidence that the claim is legitimate.

Our repo data is set be made searchable from our ToolSuite platform by vehicle registration, so you can quickly check if the VRN has appeared in a captured post. Insurers are also encouraged to connect to the dataset via API for an instant notification if a policyholder VRN appears in a Repo video.

If the VRN does not appear in our dataset, it is possible that it has still been stolen by a repo gang – since these gangs are secretive, the dataset is considered a living document, with new networks being added periodically as they are uncovered. Likewise, some gangs might not post videos of their thefts at the time of occurrence and may wait for the situation to cool down a little before posting on social media, leading to the VRN being added to our dataset at a later date. However, we can cross-reference a VRN with the dataset regularly, to provide videos as and when they appear on social media.

If a claim is being investigated by NetWatch for any other reason we will always run any VRN’s of significance against our Repo data, along with all other applicable data sources.

The future of Repo

Unless TikTok and Snapchat make considerable changes to their algorithm in order to improve identification and reporting of these accounts, it is unlikely that we will see a significant decrease in repo activity during 2024. Likewise, policing priorities and resources are unlikely to be delegated to this area in any greater quantity than during 2023, and as such we expect to see these gangs continuing to be active and we expect to see new networks appear.

If you are interested in repo or want to know more about the possible impact of this trend on claims you receive, please get in touch to be alerted to upcoming reports and newsletters regarding repo and the Key Risk Indication service.

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