Drivers warned: Watch for car thieves around holidays

Ursula Watson
The Detroit News

As you head to the mall this weekend to do last-minute Christmas shopping it’s good to remember that auto thieves don’t take holidays off.

Help Eliminate Auto Thefts — a statewide auto theft prevention program and tip line — warns drivers that holiday shoppers are often easy targets for vehicle thieves and carjackers.

“We all get distracted around the holidays,” said Terri Miller, executive director of HEAT. “We are running errands, going in and out of places and we think it is OK to let our guards down for a minute because, after all, who would be such a Grinch around Christmastime?”

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s 2013 Annual Holiday Vehicle Theft report, released last month, there were 708,909 thefts in the U.S for the whole year.

More than 1,000 vehicles were stolen on each of the 11 holidays, with Christmas Eve ranked sixth with 1,774 while Christmas Day landed in last place with 1,224.

The holiday with the most stolen vehicles was New Year’s Day with 2,184.

The report doesn’t give a reason why auto thieves were so busy on New Year’s Day, said Carol Kaplan, National Insurance Crime Bureau’s spokeswoman. But she surmised that even thieves might take time out to celebrate Christmas and Thanksgiving.

“Holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving, we tend to have rituals as a society on those days that keep us busy, ” Kaplan said.

Also, Miller said many people leave there cars in parking lots at clubs or restaurants after New Year’s Eve activities which often include alcohol. While not getting behind the wheel when inebriated is the right thing to do, Miller suggests leaving the driving to someone else on New Year’s Eve.

“Take a cab,” Miller said. “Leaving you car over night in an unfamiliar parking lot is never a good idea.”

Overall, car theft in the state has dropped.

In the Michigan Automobile Theft Prevention Authority 2013 report, from 1986 to 2012, auto thefts dropped 65 percent. During that same time period, auto thefts nationally decreased by 41 percent. Michigan remains the sixth-highest state for auto thefts.

“I think that all of us are excited that total auto thefts are down and that is truly a good thing but what it also means is that thieves haven’t stopped, they are just doing different things,” Miller said. “They are stealing components of the cars, engaging in carjacking.”

Three recent trends vehicle owners are seeing are thieves stealing catalytic converters, all four wheels or pick-up bed liftgates instead of the whole vehicle.

Here are some anti-theft tips HEAT offers for holiday shoppers:

■When walking to your vehicle, be aware of your surroundings. Avoid distractions such as talking or texting on your cellphone. Have keys out and make sure packages are packed in a way where they are easy to handle.

■If shopping after dark, select a well-lit parking area with plenty of pedestrian traffic or in a lot with an attendant. Avoid parking near objects such as dumpsters, bushes and large vans or trucks that block your view of the surroundings. Also, don’t park next to cars with tinted windows that you cannot see through.

■If you must leave valuables in the car, place them in the trunk.

■Thieves will watch shoppers as they unload purchases so if you must continue shopping move your vehicle to another area.

■Don’t be ashamed to ask retail security personnel to escort you to your car.

■Never leave your vehicle unlocked or running unattended.

■Once home, remain alert. Don’t forget the safety of your passengers, especially children or the elderly. Escort them into the home first and then unload your purchases.

■If you do face a carjacker, don’t argue. Let them have the vehicle. Miller said most carjackings involve a weapon and your life is worth more than your vehicle. Try to get a good look at the carjacker, what they are wearing and call police.

“You have to assume that every time you go out of the house that someone wants to steal your car,” Miller said.

If you have information regarding auto theft, insurance fraud or carjackings, call HEAT’s 24-hour confidential tip reward line (800) 242-HEAT. Tipsters can get rewards up to to $10,000.

(313) 222-2613

Holiday vehicle thefts

Which holidays were the most popular among thievesin the U.S. in 2013.

1. New Year’s Day: 2,184

2. Halloween: 1,998

3. Memorial Day: 1,972

4. Labor Day: 1,915

5. Presidents’ Day: 1,894

6. Christmas Eve: 1,774

7. Valentine’s Day: 1,757

8. Independence Day: 1,750

9. New Year’s Eve: 1,715

10. Thanksgiving: 1,353

11. Christmas Day: 1,224

Source: National Crime Information Center