NEW DELHI: Their eight-year stealing spree in which they used engine control module code scanners and other gadgets to disarm car security devices ended on Friday night. Police caught three men in a stolen i20 car at Timarpur in , bringing to an end the serial theft of around 500 cars, most of them SUVs and sedans, since 2010.

The third arrest of the kind in which gangs used code scanners to make off with cars equipped with electronic security systems and safety alarms, this particular trio operated in Delhi and and fenced the stolen vehicles through associates in Meerut and Lucknow.

Nupur Prasad, DCP (North), said on Saturday that Mohsin, Aslam and Shehzad were arrested for the thefts. The cops also recovered 10 stolen and 52 car keys from the gang’s storage hideouts in Muradnagar and Meerut in UP. Mohsin told the cops the gang had been active since 2010 and claimed to have stolen around 500 cars.

Many of Delhi Police’s anti-auto thefts squads (AATS) have reported that inter-state gangs are increasingly using code scanners capable of erasing data on the ECM, which controls the vehicle’s operations. The device, which is imported at a cost starting from Rs 1.5 lakh, is placed close to the ignition keyhole of the car and reads the ECM code before changing it to zero or the factory setting. This disables the central locking system and allows the thieves to start the vehicle with any key.

“These devices are illegally procured from car manufacturing plants or online grey markets,” a police officer told TOI, adding that criminals earlier used to start the target cars by damaging the locks, getting in and then using a master key to drive the vehicle away.

Each vehicle brand has its own code scanner, and the device is not easy to operate. “In the majority of cases where the scanner is used, we have found that the gangs involved had at least one person with prior work experience in the car industry,” an AATS officer explained. “That person knew about the code scanner operations. Else, a layman or a petty thief cannot usually use the device.”

To also ensure the vehicles are not tracked, the thieves scan the car for GPS devices. If detected, the mapping set-up is either physically damaged or an anti-GPS gadget, which costs as little as Rs 2,000, is employed to scatter the GPS link, making the vehicle go off the navigation map.

Cops said the ECM devices were later reset or new ones, removed from other vehicles, installed in the stolen cars. Luxury vehicles and SUVs stolen in Delhi-NCR in this manner are taken to other states, where they are sold with forged documents.

Mohsin’s gang was selling SUVs such as Fortuners and Innovas for Rs 70,000-1.5 lakh and Sedans and hatchbacks for around Rs 35, 000 in the grey market.

Get latest news & live updates on the go on your pc with . Download The for your device. in English and other languages.