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SAN MARCOS, Calif. – The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department is warning of a spike in catalytic converter thefts recently in the San Marcos area.

Just last week, deputies arrested a group of three thieves, caught in the act of attempting to steal catalytic converters on the 700 block of Lupine Drive. At least four other catalytic convertors were found in their possession.

“Most people have no idea how much it costs until it happens to them,” said Victor Banuelos, owner at Centric Auto Repair in San Marcos.

A catalytic converter thief can be under your car, in and out with the precious metal in minutes, and the victim is stuck with a costly repair.

“I’ll give you an example, a Prius. Right now, they’re running around $4,500 for the parts and installation,” Banuelos said.

It’s a crime that’s been on the rise throughout San Diego County and statewide, with lawmakers in California even proposing laws to crack down on catalytic converter theft.

Banuelos says his shop used to service maybe one catalytic converter theft a year, but now it’s become a weekly occurrence.

The sheriff’s department has been hosting VIN number etching events and there are newer safety measures as well, like installing an alarm or shield.

“It’ll take the thief over an hour just to get in versus about three minutes to get under your car, pull the catalytic converter out and run,” Banuelos said.

Authorities say the most recent suspects in San Marcos were not local to the area. Although the department has received about a dozen reports of catalytic converter thefts in the area in the last 90 days, Banuelos believes there are many more cases going unreported.

“Most of the time, people don’t even know what happened to them,” he said. “They bring it in and once they find out, they’re not even making reports because they’re already in the shop. They usually make a decision to fix it or get a new car.”

Banuelos says the price of what thieves can get for the metal inside a catalytic converter is also on the rise. What used to sell for about $800, can now go for more than $1,000.

The sheriff’s department is asking anyone who sees suspicious activity to call the non-emergency line at 858-565-5200.