FOX 29 Investigates: Thieves target pricey cars at Philly airport

- FOX 29 Investigates has an exclusive report about dozens of travelers returning to Philly's main airport to find someone has broken into their cars and, in a few cases, taken off with their rides.

The thieves have come in two waves now but finding video of them in the act may not be as easy as you'd think, Jeff Cole reports.

With nearly 12,000 parking spaces in five multi-story garages and surface lots just outside, Philadelphia International Airport has plenty of convenient parking.

A big sign invites you to "Park At The Airport." The rate? Eleven dollars a day for economy, up to $24 in the garages.

"Your vehicle is safe with us," the Philadelphia Parking Authority boasts online.

But is it? FOX 29 Investigates has learned that recently, in the early-morning hours, thieves have broken into dozens of high-end cars and driven right off with a few of them.

We've obtained pictures that show how it's done. They were sent to us by a flier who returned to Garage B to find the passenger window jacked right out of the door and tossed on the backseat of his car. The contents were rifled through.

An emergency phone in the garage didn't work, he says, so he returned to the terminal to call the PPA.

In their office, that flier found out he wasn't alone. He heard his car was at least the 30th hit at PHL over several nights in August. They were all Audis.

A source with detailed knowledge of airport activity confirmed the break-ins, plus a couple of cars were stolen.

Philly police told us their Major Crimes unit was working "a rash of car break-ins." But the story didn't end there.

We've now learned 15 to 18 more Audis were hit again in early October, with at least one more car taken.

"Well, we've had a number of vehicles hit back in August, and it was brought to our attention," said Philly police spokesman Lt. John Stanford. "A number of motorists returned back to their vehicles to find them broken into."

He added, "And then, most recently, probably about a week-and-a-half, two weeks ago, another set of vehicles were reported as broken into."

Stanford says the incidents are "probably all connected."

A source tells us thieves are targeting Audi A6 and A7 models by popping out their windows and locating an emergency key sometimes found inside.

Despite several calls and e-mails laying out what we've learned, Audi USA has not responded.

Police are being cautious.

"I don't want to pinpoint exactly which vehicles at this point in time, because I don't want anything to interfere with the investigation, or as well as the method to how they gained entry inside of the vehicles," Stanford said.

The motorist who contacted us spent $220 bucks getting his intact window placed back in his car. More concerning was that his registration was gone. He paid out of pocket for extra identity theft protection.

"Would they be seeking VIN numbers to re-plate cars and move oversees?" Cole asked.

Stanford answered, "Very good possibility, but, again, I don't know, and it's something that we want to – you know, we're not ruling anything out at this point in time."

And there's this: Police told the Audi owner they had no surveillance video of the break-in because there are no cameras inside the garage.

The PPA touts online its "real-time parking availability system" and "license plate recognition technology" so they "can keep track of the exact spot you parked in."

We drove around, and we didn't see any cameras, either.

We asked the PPA about it. They weren't talking, and neither was the airport. Both admitted to an investigation but pointed questions about security and cameras to police.

Cole asked, "Can you tell us whether there are cameras on the individual floors that would have captured this for you?"

"That I honestly don't know. You may have to check with the parking authority to get you in terms of a little bit better answer on that. It's their parking lot," Stanford said.

Last year, the airport completed a $6.5-million upgrade of its surveillance camera system, but it monitors "passenger and checked baggage screening areas at PHL."

The TSA told us its job is security at checkpoints. For anything else, talk to local law enforcement.

"This is a problem, right? " Cole asked. "I mean, it's not your parking garage, but … that's a city-owned entity out there at the airport, and you don't want 45 cars getting hammered."

"Listen, at the end of the day, we're responsible for the security at the airport, along with some other agencies," the police lieutenant told us. "But we're not in any way, shape or form wanting to pass it off on anyone else."

Again, no comment from Audi USA.

When similar thefts two years ago in England prompted questions about that emergency key, a company rep there said, in part, "no vehicle is immovable if its key is accessible."

Other ways you might protect your car include taking parking tickets with you when you fly, perhaps your registration, too, Cole reported.

Have a tip for the FOX 29 Investigates team? Email us at fox29.undercover@foxtv.com or like Jeff Cole's Facebook page and send a message!

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