(CBS News) LOS ANGELES - The recent search for a missing rented 2010 black Ferrari exposed the latest cat-and-mouse game between exotic car smugglers and authorities.
Eric Blumberg, owner of an exotic car rental businessRent-In-Style noticed something was wrong after renting the Ferrari out to a seemingly legitimate customer for the going rate of $2,000 a day.
"In the cars we have a few different tracking systems in place," Blumberg said. "I found that this car wasn't moving for a few days so that's rare because of the costs per day."
Using GPS, he tracked the car to its last known location - a non-descript warehouse near the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. By the time Blumberg called police, his Ferrari had been loaded into a container onto a massive cargo ship at the port, and delivered to Hong Kong.
U.S. Customs officers tracked the car and had it returned to the U.S. By now, they realized that they had stumbled onto a case far more complex than that of one stolen and smuggled vehicle.
Todd Owen of U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the car, a little over $200,000 domestically, "would probably bring double that in Hong Kong on the black market." That's a lot of money, but still cheaper than buying it legally overseas when you figure in taxes and shipping costs.
Using tracking data from the Ferrari's container, customs agents recovered a total of 20 stolen high-end cars, exported - or about to be - from the port. Law enforcement officers believe the cars had been driven off car dealership lots by people with fake identification. No arrests have been made yet in the case.
"Some will be just false social security numbers, some will be fraudulent names," said Sgt. Michael Stefanoff, California Highway Patrol. "Enough to prevent us from trying to find out who the actual person is that walked into that dealership on that day."
According to investigators, finding stolen cars, many shipped in pieces, can be like finding a needle in a haystack. More than 20,000 containers pass through the ports of Los Angeles and Long beach every day - more than 500 vehicles are exported daily. Last year, customs officers here seized 61 smuggled vehicles worth $1.8 million.
No arrests have been made yet, but the investigation continues. Blumberg just wants to get his car back, and his business back on track.