HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla — It took only a few seconds Friday for Matthew Lerret to realize something was wrong with his Prius.
"It sounds like a lawnmower is right in your ear," he said, "At that point, it occurred to me that my catalytic converter got stolen."
It's theft, that set him back $1500 in repairs.
"When I made a police report the officer had mentioned that catalytic converters being stolen was something that they had been seeing a pattern of," said Lerret.
Across town, the owner of Tampa Hybrids, Inc., Todd Thompson, says he's hearing and seeing more of the same.
"In this particular one, the thieves cut the catalytic converters out. Sometimes they cut them on both ends," said Thompson.
Crooks hit at least five of his customers and stole from the business itself.
"We have video of the two that were stolen off our lot this past Sunday and they were probably here five or six minutes and did two of them?"
And these thieves aren't amateurs.
That converter is a part of the exhaust system that most cars have.
But in this case, Thompson says someone is specifically targeting Priuses made between 2004 and 2009.
"The Prius is one of those that has a really high content palladium, platinum, and rhodium," he said.
Priuses made between those years typically have the most precious metals, meaning their converters can be sold for about $900.
"The core buyers will not buy from somebody who cannot show proof of ID. You have to have a VIN number in most cases from the car it came off of. So there's got to be a secondary market they're selling them to," said Thompson.
To help protect yourself, Thompson says you can have a shield installed for $300-$450, among other things.
"Cameras are not going to bring your catalytic converters back so a shield is probably one of the best protections you can get, a motion-sensing alarm, or just being parked somewhere where it's secure with a big fence or a dog or something like that," he said.