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With car prices surging, your vehicle is a prime target for thieves

The pandemic created a “perfect storm” of conditions for auto thefts to increase, said one industry expert.
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You can blame the Covid pandemic for yet another thing: a surge in auto thefts.

Vehicle thefts in the United States jumped 9 percent last year from a year earlier, to 873,000, the highest number in more than a decade, according to statistics from the National Insurance Crime Bureau provided to CNBC.

The pandemic created a “perfect storm” of conditions for auto thefts to increase, said NICB President and CEO David Glawe.

“We have a lot of disenfranchised youth that are unemployed, and outreach programs are shut down or limited due to Covid,” he said. “There is frustration and anger in society. We are also seeing public safety resource limitations and withdrawal of proactive policing due to budget constraints.”

Vehicles are also especially valuable these days. Because of tight supply and heavy post-pandemic demand, used car prices are up nearly 30 percent from a year ago.

Chicago saw a 134 percent increase in vehicle thefts last year, and double the number of carjackings.

The increase in thefts began slowly, coinciding with the start of the pandemic in March 2020. They accelerated by last June as the first wave of Covid lockdowns subsided and a second wave loomed. By November, monthly thefts were running 18 percent ahead of 2019.

The biggest jump was in Chicago, which saw a 134 percent increase in vehicle thefts last year, the NICB said. The Chicago Police Department said it also recorded a doubling in the number of carjackings.

“This has been a year that has presented numerous challenges to law enforcement,” Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown said.

Numbers leveled off a bit as pandemic restrictions have subsided, but Chicago police data released this month show thefts are still 9 percent higher than a year ago.

Elsewhere, thefts surged 68 percent in New York City and 50 percent in Washington, D.C., the NICB said.

With today’s high prices, there is a ready market for most cars and trucks, as well as their parts. And criminals are finding it remarkably easy to simply steal vehicles. The NICB says more than 10 percent of the vehicles stolen in 2019 — the last year for which complete figures are available — had the keys left inside.

Since nearly all cases lead to an insurance claim, every policyholder suffers in the form of higher premiums. Here are some common-sense tips:

  • Take your keys out of the ignition when you park the vehicle, or if your car has a remote key fob. Keep it with you even if you are just exiting your vehicle briefly.
  • Lock your doors and windows, and park in a well-lighted area.
  • Don’t leave valuables or anything else that might draw thieves’ interest inside your car. That includes your garage door opener.
  • Consider keeping a picture of your vehicle registration on your phone rather than leaving the actual document in your glove compartment.
  • Think about installing a car alarm as well as a kill switch that can immobilize a stolen vehicle.
  • Consider getting a GPS tracker that can help authorities find your vehicle.