Cars are left unattended as auto theft spikes during pandemic

Vehicle thefts increased in 2020, according to a new report that suggests a number of reasons for the increase, including the pandemic, which causes Americans to leave their cars unattended for longer than usual.

Thieves stole 880,595 vehicles in the US in 2020, a 10.9% increase from 2019, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, which represents insurance companies.

“We haven’t seen such massive growth in the past 30 years,” said David Glave, CEO of the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

In the early months of the pandemic, vehicle miles traveled fell sharply as Americans stayed in homes amid government shutdowns. This was a major contributor to the increase in theft.

“Too many targets for the opportunity,” Glave said.

Catalytic converter steal climbs: Thieves chase rare metals in vehicles

Keyless ignition opportunity became: Thieves strike after drivers leave keys in vehicles

The National Insurance Crime Bureau analyzed data from the FBI and insurance claims to produce its estimate.

Glave said the spike, based on an initial analysis of the data, continues into 2021, with most Americans starting driving again.

This points to several additional factors, including:

keys left in car

With the increasing trend of keyless ignition, thieves are easily able to steal vehicles when people leave their keys inside. All they have to do is pull the door handle, jump in, press the start button and drive.

“Some of us just forget that we put them in the cupholder or leave it on the seat between our legs,” Glave said.

change in law enforcement

Glave said police across the country have reported a shift in their priorities away from proactive efforts to prevent vehicle thefts.

This has made it easier to avoid stolen vehicles, he said.


The rise in unemployment due to the pandemic left many Americans with little to do during the day, Glave said. Some people steal vehicles for pulling off other crimes, like other thefts, to earn money, he said.

Glave said unemployed youth and young women are particularly susceptible to vehicle theft.

During the pandemic, thieves are also stealing catalytic converters at higher rates due to the spike in the price of rare metals.

A surveillance image of a stolen Nissan Rogue that the Memphis Police Department was searching for Thursday, April 29, 2021.  Police said the vehicle was stolen along with a four-year-old girl.

A surveillance image of a stolen Nissan Rogue that the Memphis Police Department was searching for Thursday, April 29, 2021. Police said the vehicle was stolen along with a four-year-old girl.

where is this happening?

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the district had the highest vehicle theft rate among all states and the District of Columbia, at 563 per 100,000 residents.

Colorado (502), California (475), Missouri (453) and New Mexico (426) rounded out the top five.

Of all the major metro areas, Bakersfield, California, was hit hardest with a burglary rate of 905 per 100,000 residents. The next four biggest targets were Yuba City, Calif. (724); Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, Colorado (706); Odessa, Texas (664); and San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, Calif. (655).

To avoid vehicle theft, the National Insurance Crime Bureau has suggested the following:

1. Use Common Sense: “Vehicle owners should always remove keys from the ignition, lock doors and windows, and park in well-lit areas.”

2. Activate Alert Devices: “These include visible and audible alarms. Aftermarket alarms are available for all types and models of cars. Visual devices include column collars, steering wheel locks and brake locks.”

3. Deploy Stable Devices: “The third layer of security prevents thieves from bypassing the vehicle’s ignition and hot-wiring. Some examples are smart keys; fuse cut-off; kill switches; starter, ignition, and fuel pump disablers; and wireless ignition authentication.”

4. Use Tracking Tools: ‚ÄúTracking devices are very effective in helping officers recover stolen vehicles. Some systems combine GPS and wireless technologies to allow remote monitoring of the vehicle. If the vehicle is moved, the system will track the owner. will alert, and the vehicle can be tracked through a computer.”

You can follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bowie on Twitter.Nathan Bomme And subscribe to our free Daily Money newsletter for personal finance tips and business news every Monday through Friday morning.

This article was originally featured on USA Today: Incidents of auto thefts: Thieves strike with cars during pandemic

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