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Center Cap Thieves Target Parking Garages

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Criminals are targeting Chicago drivers with a crime that happens in just seconds. They're stealing the center caps from cars.

Many of the thefts are happening in parking garages. CBS 2's Pamela Jones has been tracking the situation for several weeks.

If you take pride in your car, you look for a safe place to leave it while you're downtown. But we found many drivers returning to their cars only to find something missing - the center part of their hubcap, or the center cap.

"I just came to my car at the end of the day and noticed all my center caps were missing," said driver Charles Duerr.

He's one of dozens of drivers we tracked over a period of about 5 weeks at a garage near State and Randolph. We found wheel after wheel with no center caps. We contacted several drivers who told us the caps were stolen while their cars were parked at the garage.

"This is the third time I've replaced them. All stolen in the same place you think? All stolen in the same place," said Duerr.

It happened to David Perry's sport utility vehicle, which he'd only owned for two weeks at the time.

"First I'm just like something just doesn't look right. And then, when you realize as stupid as it is your caps get stolen," said Perry, "But what's even more frustrating is there's no help."

The criminals seem to swipe caps with symbols like Nissan, Audi and others.

Stephen Garrett of Hub Cap City in Riverdale showed us how the center caps can be popped off in just a few seconds.

He says the thieves take them to flea markets and salvage yards to try to sell them.

Garrett developed a lock that attaches to a lug on the wheel. It makes it more difficult to take the caps, and it makes the caps look more unattractive to people who would try to steal them.

"Screw it down with a key and essentially it will deter the theft," Garrett said, "Just the thought of it looking like there's a lock on it."

Chicago police have logged more than 50 reports of stolen center caps or hubcaps so far this year, but auto repair experts say a lot of people don't report the crime. The lock for the caps costs about $40. But car dealers sometimes charge hundreds to replace all four.

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