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Nearly 50,000 cars have been stolen throughout Illinois in the last two years. And not all the cars are found. But if one is, chances are the Illinois Secretary of State’s Auto Theft Task Force had a hand in the recovery.

The task force was quietly launched two years ago as the number of stolen cars climbed.

Its mission is simple: Recover as many vehicles as possible, using sophisticated license plate readers that can spot stolen cars in seconds.

WGN Investigates recently got an exclusive look at how the technology and the task force operate, riding along as its members searched the streets of one south suburb.

Task force officials say many of the cars are used in other crimes, then discarded.

Though, some are sold online by thieves.

“It’s a lot easier for a thief to steal a vehicle or two and make $50,000…offering it up on Craigslist,” head of the state’s task force Capt. Elmer Garza said.

Cars do end up at dealerships, too.

In one case, the task force helped bring down a Peoria-based used car dealer who was selling cars stolen out of Chicago.

The man, Marty Goldstein, recently completed his probation. And when we tracked him at his business, he claimed he didn’t know the cars were hot.

The seller “looked like a familiar face,” Goldstein said. “He said, ‘I can get these cars’ and I said I’m willing to buy them if they are right and not stolen.”