Consider this: Your car is more likely to be stolen from a public place than from your home, according to Frank G. Scafidi, director of public affairs for the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).
"Thieves roam parking lots at malls, gyms, theaters -- you name it -- looking for opportunities," says Scafidi.
Knowing what a car thief sees, and where he looks, can cut down on the chances that you'll find an empty parking spot instead of your car.
Here's what thieves are looking for, and what you can do to thwart their plans.
Scafidi says most thieves are looking for unlocked vehicles holding things you've left behind.
"They're looking for packages in your back seat," he says.
Or "would-be" packages. Even if a bag, backpack or box is empty, thieves don't know that. They think it "might" be a treasure chest of sellable goodies.
"And that is enough to cause him to break a window to find out what you've got in your car," says Scafidi.
New packages, boxes and bags are very attractive. Jamie Rosand Haenggi, a security expert from electronic security company Protection One, recommends stashing your purchases in the trunk if you're going from place to place shopping.
"Just be sure to place your packages in the trunk before you depart a parking area heading for another store, because thieves will hang out in lots watching to see who stashes things in their trunk before heading into the store or mall," she says.
Haenggi also suggests you maintain a clean car. "Your interior should look the way it did when you drove it off the lot. There weren't any bags, books and boxes lying around then, and there shouldn't be now."
Whether you're parking in a public place or in your own driveway, make sure there's plenty of light.
Tod Burke, interim associate dean for the College of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences at Radford University in Radford, Va., and a former Maryland police officer, says you should always aim to park as close to a well-lit area as possible.
"Turn on your home's exterior lights from dusk to dawn. The little bit of extra electricity is well worth eliminating the aggravation of having your car stolen," he says.
Walk that extra block if that is what it takes to park on a well-lit busier street or parking area.
If you have a car alarm, Burke says use it, "even if your car is in your driveway or garage. That way, any attempt to tamper with your car will create a ruckus that's likely to scare off a car thief. They don't want the attention the noise is sure to bring."
If you don't have an alarm, pretend you do.
"Place alarm stickers on your car's rear window to deter potential thieves. They probably won't tempt fate to see if the sticker is real or not," says Burke.
In addition to bags, purses and backpacks on your car seats, thieves are looking for electronics they can grab quickly -- particularly your GPS device.
"Before selling the unit they snatched from your windshield in less than 30 seconds, chances are a thief checked to see if you have your home address stored in the GPS. That way, they can drive past your home to assess if it's worth robbing, too," says Larry Kaminer, president of The Personal Safety Training Group, a personal and commercial safety training and consultant firm based in Seattle.
Scafidi suggests always taking your GPS and its mounting bracket off your windshield or dash when you park your car. And wipe the suction cup smudge off the window so there's no hint that the device is probably stashed under the front seat.
"Make sure to use the unit's password-protect feature. That way if it is stolen, the criminal can't find his way to your house," says Kaminer.
While there has been a steady downward trend in vehicle thefts from 2004 through 2009 (the last year of complete data from NICB), cars are stolen every day – especially if they're on NICB's list of the "top 10" most stolen cars for 2009.
These are cars likely to chopped up and sold for parts.
Now, here's what you should be looking for: If you want to have car theft covered by insurance, you'll need to buy comprehensive coverage with your auto insurance policy. Without it, you'll have to pay for a replacement vehicle yourself.
If you do need to file a car insurance claim for theft, you'll need a police report and you'll have to pay your deductible. You'll be reimbursed for the actual cash value of your car at the time of the theft.
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