OAK BROOK, IL – Leave it to the crooks to come up with very wise ideas.

The Chicago Automobile Trade Assn., which represents Chicagoland new-car dealers, reports that the Greater Metropolitan Auto Theft Task Force, a division of the Illinois State Police, is investigating a new method used to steal cars off dealer lots: the key-swap scam.

The thieves pose as potential buyers who don't necessarily want to take the car for a test drive, but do ask the salesman to give them the key for a quick check of the interior amenities and cargo capacity of the trunk.

The thieves, a man and woman who appear to be husband and wife, return a key when done with their inspection, but not the actual key that goes with the car. Either they take the real key with them or hide it in the car and return a short time later to slip in and take it for a "one-way" test drive.

To limit the possibility of theft, Investigator Michael Turman of the Illinois State Police Auto Theft Task Force, advises the salesperson check to see that the key being returned by the customer “is the actual key for the vehicle before returning that key to the keyboard."

Another, and perhaps the best, safeguard for dealers to avoid having their new vehicles stolen is to simply check their mail.

Turman has sent dealers pictures of the key-scam couple, taken by security cameras at dealerships where the pair first have inspected the cars and again later as they drive them away with the pilfered key.