Stolen car recovered, thanks to social media

Netizens helped the owner of this Singapore-registered white Honda Civic to track down his vehicle after it was stolen at a car wash in Johor Baru on July 5.
Netizens helped the owner of this Singapore-registered white Honda Civic to track down his vehicle after it was stolen at a car wash in Johor Baru on July 5.PHOTO: FACEBOOK PAGE OF DEVAH DEV

When his white Honda Civic was stolen in Johor Baru earlier this month, Mr Joe Ong knew the chances of finding it were slim.

Still, the 35-year-old and his brother Eric, 32, posted an appeal on Facebook for help to locate the Singapore-registered car.

On Sunday, exactly three weeks after the incident, the vehicle was recovered and the suspected car thief nabbed, thanks to clues left behind by netizens.

"The first thing that came to my mind after my car was stolen was to go online and rely on the goodwill of netizens to spread the search," said Mr Ong, who runs an online marketing firm.

"I was just trying my luck."

Mr Ong travels to Johor at least once a month, and usually leaves the vehicle at a car wash near the KSL City Mall before heading for dinner with his friends. He did the same on July 5, around 6pm. But when he returned a few hours later, the car was gone, along with his passport and credit cards.

Staff at the car wash said the vehicle, which Mr Ong has owned for five years, was driven off by someone claiming to be his friend shortly after 6.30pm.

"Usually when a car is stolen there is a slim chance of getting it back. Some people even said it might be exported to Thailand," said Mr Ong. He had to stay in Johor with his friends for an extra day to get the proper documentation to return to Singapore.

His brother Eric, who works in sales, posted about the stolen car online and put up regular updates from netizens. The breakthrough came after a white Honda was caught on camera fleeing a Port Dickson petrol station without paying. The video, posted online last Friday, was shared widely on social media and netizens eventually linked it to Mr Ong's vehicle.

It was then spotted in Malacca on Sunday, when a couple saw it parked at the Herald Hotel. The suspect, who was staying at the hotel, was later arrested.

"Now with technology, I don't have to go around looking for my car," Mr Ong noted. "Even if I went around searching, I know I won't be able to find my car so easily."

The Straits Times understands that the car is now with the Malaysian authorities and will be returned in the next few days.

Mr Ong, who has not gone back to Johor since the incident, said he will be more careful in future. "Many people told me I am lucky," he said, hoping the incident serves as a caution to others. "I am thankful for the many strangers who came forward and offered their help when they didn't have to."

• Additional reporting by Chew Hui Min

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2015, with the headline 'Stolen car recovered, thanks to social media'. Print Edition | Subscribe