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Criminals getting more brazen in Ontario vehicle thefts

WATCH ABOVE: Car owners are often targets for organized crime, and now dealers are the sights of thieves looking to make money fast. Seán O’Shea reports.

A Toronto car dealer says a man who stole a Mercedes from his lot in August in front of a salesperson shows how brazen auto thieves have become.

“Thank God nobody got harmed,” owner Remah Shaath told Global News.

A man walked into Yorkdale Fine Cars and expressed interest in a Mercedes Benz GLE, selling for about $46,000.

He wanted to see the unplated vehicle and sat in the driver’s seat while the salesperson stood outside.

READ MORE: Police arrest 4 in connection with reported thefts of high-end SUVs from Oakville driveways

Security video appeared to show the man was suddenly able to start the vehicle and drive off the lot at high speed, narrowly missing a woman pushing a child in a stroller across a street beside the lot.

“Our concern is the safety of our staff and the people on walkways, on roads,” said Shaath, explaining his concern someone might have been seriously injured or killed.

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The incident is just one example of daylight thefts from car lots recently. York Regional Police said officers are investigating a theft on Sept. 3 at a dealership in Vaughan.

In that incident, a dealership employee sustained serious but non-life-threatening injuries while attempting to prevent a thief from leaving the lot.

“An employee … attempted to stop the thief by hanging onto the hood of the vehicle and was eventually thrown off,” said Const. Andy Pattenden.

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Toronto police described auto theft in the city as “pandemic” last year, pointing to a 29 per cent increase in auto theft compared to the year earlier. Police said the increase in thefts of luxury vehicles was even higher.

According to an auto security expert, car owners can reduce the risk of having their vehicles stolen.

“It is preventable, you can stop it from happening to you,” said Jeff Bates, owner of Lockdown Security in Markham.

READ MORE: ‘Target harden’ your vehicles as auto thefts up 29% in Toronto: police

Bates said secondary security systems can be added to vehicles that can be integrated into a car’s computer system, “making them much harder to steal.”

The trade-off, he said, that such systems may require one or more extra steps for a driver to put the vehicle in motion, a fact that deters some owners from installing such systems. In addition, he said after-market security systems can cost $1,000 or more.

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To reduce the risk of theft, Bates recommended drivers always lock their vehicles, attempt to park in a lighted driveway, or park in a locked garage where possible.