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/ Source: NBC News

Automakers have gone to great lengths in recent years to make it more difficult to steal a car. Some owners, however, are going to great lengths to make it easy again.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, or NICB, at least $750 million worth of vehicles were stolen between 2012 and 2014 because motorists left the keys inside. NICB President Joe Wehrle says, “I’m sure the numbers are probably higher,” but owners aren’t likely to admit the fact when they file a police report or insurance claim.

California topped the list of states where the problem occurred during the three-year period. Texas was next on the list, followed by Florida, Michigan and Ohio.

If you subtract the number of cars stolen because owners left keys inside, the NICB says overall vehicle thefts would have dropped to a nearly 50-year low in 2014.

The sad part, says Wehrle, is that "Stealing a vehicle is very difficult with today's anti-theft technology and leaving the keys in the vehicle is an open invitation for the opportunistic car thief."

In all, 126,603 vehicles were reported stolen with the keys inside between 2012-2014. During the last year of that study, the total was 44,828, or 6.7 percent of all the vehicles snatched that year. That was up from 5.4 percent in 2012 and 6.0 percent in 2013, suggesting the problem is getting worse.

In 2014, the NICB said the total thefts in the top five states came to:

  • California, 19,597;
  • Texas, 8,796;
  • Florida, 7,868;
  • Michigan, 7,726; and
  • Ohio, 7,452.

According to the NICB study, Saturday saw the most thefts with keys, followed by Friday and Monday.

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-- Paul A. Eisenstein