By Devin Fehely

RICHMOND (KPIX 5) — Surveillance camera caught thieves stealing a catalytic converter straight out of a Richmond homeowner’s Toyota Prius, just one incident in a recent rash of targeted East Bay thefts.

From start to finish, the whole process took about five minutes before the thieves fled.

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One thief can be seen walking toward Chow’s family Prius (Photo: Eric Chow)

Eric Chow’s security camera caught two suspects steal his family Prius’ catalytic converter early in the morning. Video shows them exiting an SUV and walking calmly over to Chow’s vehicle, working quickly and quietly to make sure the owners didn’t wake.

“It looks about 5:40 in the morning. Three people came in with a SUV, lifted the car up a little bit, got the catalytic converter and were gone in about five minutes,” Chow explained.

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Chow’s wife noticed that something was wrong as soon as she attempted to start the Prius later that morning. And Chow and his wife aren’t alone–the thieves also targeted their next door neighbor.

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“Being without a car for a week is tough. Especially being disabled, that makes it even harder,” said neighbor Janet Scovell.

Law enforcement agencies across the East Bay–from Livermore to Albany to Chow’s Richmond neighborhood–are warning car owners about an increase in catalytic converter thefts often targeting Toyota Priuses.

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The hybrid car’s converters are more expensive than usual, costing anywhere between $2,500 and $3,000 to replace. Frustrated Prius owners feel like they’re at the mercy of the thieves.

“My out-of-pocket costs are probably a lot more than what they’re getting for this stolen catalytic converter. And I’m just worried that it could happen again in the future,” Chow said.

There are after-market products that can be added to your vehicle to make a similar theft job more difficult for the thieves. But there’s an open question among mechanics about whether such protective plates will prevent a theft entirely or merely slow it down.

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KPIX viewer Mary of Oakley said on Twitter that her Toyota Tacoma was hit by thieves twice. “They had come by and unscrewed all our motion lights first, so we put them up higher. We had out catalytic converter welded on this time. Hope it slows them down!” she said.