The U.S. cities most plagued by auto theft are:
- Jersey City-Hudson County, New Jersey
- Fresno, California
- Memphis, Tennessee
- Tucson, Arizona
- Phoenix-Mesa, Arizona
- New York, New York
- Albuquerque, New Mexico
- New Orleans, Louisiana
Why does Miami attract car thieves? John Diliberto, president of the National Insurance Crime Bureau, explains, "It is a matter of geography. Miami has the most active seaport in the United States. It is very easy for an auto thief to steal a vehicle, put it on a ship and send it overseas."
The Crime Bureau's study reveals that coastal and border cities have become hot spots for stolen vehicles. In 1997 alone, 640,000 vehicles were illegally exported. Of the top 25 metro areas in the nation for vehicle theft, nearly half are ports or communities with easy access to the border.
It isn't just new cars that attract thieves, says Diliberto. "The older vehicles are generally stolen for their parts, stripped," he says, "and the newer vehicles are shipped whole out of the country, driven across the border, land or on a ship at a port like Miami."
According to the NICB, many stolen vehicles are shipped overseas or driven across state and international borders. The newer, more expensive vehicles such as luxury sedans and utility vehicles are more likely to be shipped abroad. Older vehicles are stolen for their parts, and they tend to stay within U.S. borders.
While overall vehicle theft rates have gone down three percent, vehicle theft remains the number one property crime in the U.S. Last year alone, about 1.4 million vehicles were stolen nationwide; 40 percent were never recovered.
And, auto theft hits below the belt, taking more than $7 billion dollars each year out of car owners' and insurers' wallets.
It takes only a few minutes to steal a car, but there are a few simple steps you can take to reduce your risk. To help combat auto theft, the NICB recommends using a layered approach.
Diliberto says there are three or four levels of protection needed, depending on what kind of car you drive:
- The basic level of protection is common sense. "Lock your car and take the keys with you," he says.
- "You might need level two protection, which involves, for example, an automobile alarm." Protection can be visual. Says Diliberto, "An anti-theft device such as The Club allows the owner to visibly display he's concerned about his car being stolen." It also will make it more time-consuming to steal your car.
- The third level of protection is to disable the vehicle wih a kill switch. The switch, hidden below the dash, prevents an intruder from starting the engine.
- For particularly highly valued vehicles and those especially at risk for being stolen, there's one more step: a tracking device. A transmitter is concealed in the car. If it is reported stolen, the police can track it to its destination.
The 1997 NICB study on vehicle theft rates in the U.S. was compiled using vehicle theft data from the FBI, state motor vehicles departments, state police departments, and registered vehicle data from R.L. Polk. This is the sixth year of the study.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau is a nonprofit organization supported by insurance and self-insured companies dedicated to fighting insurance-related crime.
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