According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s most recent annual vehicle theft report, the following 10 areas have the highest vehicle theft rates per 100,000 people in the U.S.:
- Bakersfield, CA
- Yuba City, CA
- Denver, CO
- Odessa, TX
- San Francisco, CA
- Albuquerque, NM
- Pueblo, CO
- Billings, MT
- St. Joseph, MO
- Tulsa, OK
Additionally, although it varies by location, the Ford F-Series trucks, Honda Civic, Chevrolet full-size trucks, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry are often found on thieves’ lists of most targeted vehicles to steal1.
Just because you don’t live in a hot spot for theft or drive a preferred model, doesn’t mean your vehicle won’t be targeted. Many times thieves aren’t even interested in your car … they want what’s inside.
Consider the following scenario. You recall leaving your iPhone (or other valuable item) on top of your vehicle’s center console, but now you can’t find it anywhere. No one else has had permission to use or enter your vehicle and you’ve searched high and low for your smartphone to no avail. So where is it?
Racking your brain, you approach your car from the passenger side when you notice a strange hole drilled beneath the door handle …
Snopes.com, an online reference for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors and misinformation, reports that a similar scenario to the one described above began circulating via email in February 2010. According to the message, a savvy thief drilled a hole underneath the door handle on the passenger side of the victim’s truck, disengaging the locking mechanism to gain entry. A camera was the only thing that had noticeably been taken, but by using the GPS or rifling through paperwork in the glove compartment, the thief could ascertain the victim’s home address, which he then used to rake in a much larger haul when he broke into the victim’s home. Snopes wasn’t able to locate a source for the email, but it’s clear this story is no urban legend.
“We’ve seen this scenario a fair amount,” says Dan Bales, head of special investigation for Mercury Insurance. “Oftentimes people don’t even know their vehicle was broken into, because the holes are small and on the passenger side. Once the thieves know where you live and know what car you drive it becomes much easier to determine when you’re home.”
Here are a few things you can do to help protect against becoming a victim.
- Don’t leave valuables in plain sight. If you must carry expensive equipment for work, for example, keep it locked in your trunk or be sure to bring it inside with you.
- Keep paperwork that lists your address with you, not in the car. This includes your vehicle’s registration and your insurance card. Yes, you need to have them accessible in case you’re pulled over for a traffic citation but not even a locked glove compartment will deter a seasoned thief. Additionally, anything containing personal information can be used to steal your identity.
- Don’t use your actual address for the “Home” setting in your GPS. Instead, use a nearby restaurant or store from which you can easily navigate home. You can also save it under another name, such as “dry cleaner” or something similar.
- Park in well-lit and highly-trafficked areas. Thieves prefer to work in conditions with low-visibility so they can remain inconspicuous, as well as where they can hear someone approaching so they can make a quick getaway.
- Visually inspect your vehicle regularly. If you make note of new dings or scratches and what you keep in your vehicle, you can more easily tell if something has been tampered with.
- Don’t leave your car running or your keys inside your vehicle. Even if you’re running into a convenience store to make a quick purchase, a thief only needs a few seconds to jump behind the wheel and speed off. And even if you think you’re being sneaky with your hide-a-key, a thief has already thought of all of the hiding spots.
- Keep your windows closed and the doors locked. If the window is cracked enough for a thief to fit their fingers in the opening, your window can be knocked off the track, allowing access into the vehicle.
- Engage anti-theft devices. If your vehicle has an alarm or other anti-theft device, use it before leaving your vehicle. Investing in a kill switch, which halts the fuel supply, will stop the car in its tracks if someone does take it. And insurers, including Mercury Insurance, often offer insurance discounts for employing anti-theft devices.
- Consider installing a vehicle tracking system. These systems are engaged when your car is stolen, helping law enforcement authorities to track its location. Vehicle tracking systems may also qualify you for an insurance discount.
- Contact the police immediately. They’ll file a police report so there’s a record of your loss.
To ensure you’re properly insured if your car is stolen or if something is taken from your vehicle, contact your insurance agent or speak to a local Mercury agent. Many people don’t realize that homeowners or renters insurance policies cover personal belongings inside your vehicle, while auto insurance covers damage to the vehicle (subject to your deductibles) and it’s better to be safe than sorry.