Hot Wheels Classics: Thefts of Pontiac Firebirds

When General Motors introduced the Pontiac Firebird in 1967, it joined the growing field of “muscle cars” populated with nameplates such as the Ford Mustang and Dodge Charger both of which were scoring commercial success in the marketplace.  

But as today’s new report shows, the Firebird was also a popular target for auto thieves with more than 250,000 of them reported stolen since they were introduced.

1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

Indeed, in the late 1960s, General Motors seized the opportunity by delivering models from four of its divisions-the Buick Skylark GS (Gran Sport), Chevrolet Camaro, Oldsmobile 4-4-2 and Pontiac Firebird, to name a few. They entered a market segment that provided new and powerful cars to satisfy the need of more youthful buyers looking to drive a “personal statement” not just a car.

It didn’t take long for the Firebird to develop a strong following and over the course of its production a Firebird variant–the Trans Am-further defined the brand and its owners. The Trans Am became an instant automotive icon when it “co-starred” with Burt Reynolds in 1977’s “Smokey and the Bandit.”


“KITT” from the TV series Knight Rider

The Trans Am’s big-screen debut was followed in 1982 when a futuristic, talking, 1982 Trans Am known as “KITT” partnered with David Hasselhoff in television’s “Knight Rider” series.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) reviewed Firebird theft data from 1981-2014 and identified 249,670 theft records. Although theft data from 1967 is available, confidence in pre-1981 theft records is low due to the inconsistency in reporting protocols and vehicle identification number (VIN) systems in use prior to 1981. When the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration mandated standardized VINs beginning with the 1981 model year, that year became the benchmark for reliable data used in all Hot Wheels Classics reports.      

The top five calendar years for Firebird thefts were 1989 (19,792 thefts), 1988 (19,332), 1990 (17,785), 1987 (17,410) and 1991 (16,430). The five calendar years with the fewest thefts were 2014 (445), 2013 (585), 2012 (676), 2011 (701) and 2010 (731).

As for thieves’ most preferred model year Firebird? That distinction belongs to 1986’s model with 26,881 reported thefts. Next comes 1984 with 25,533 thefts. In third place is 1987 with 22,257 thefts. 1982 (21,213 thefts) and 1985 (20,929) round out the top five model years.

See the complete report here.

As always, readers should note that inconsistency and inaccuracy with vehicle theft reporting may impact the accuracy and reliability of this data.

Insurance Fraud Headlines for July 8, 2015

Here are the top insurance fraud stories for today:

* Surveillance Footage Used in Workers’ Comp Claim (NICB)

* (ABC 15)

* Former executive’s fraud against M&T is rife with unlikely twists (Buffalo News)

* LAPD Raids Organized Credit Card, Gas Fraud Ring (KTTV)

* North Carolina Man Charged with 8 Counts of Insurance Fraud (Insurance Journal)


Surveillance Footage Used in Wisconsin Workers’ Comp Claim

A man on workers' compensation lifts heavy groceries and shovels snow while collecting benefits.

A man on workers’ compensation lifts heavy groceries and shovels snow while collecting benefits.

In this edition of Fraud Files we focus on a Wisconsin man on workers’ compensation who had over $1.2 million paid out for the claim in 5 years. Only video surveillance shows the injury isn’t all that severe. In the footage the man is seen chopping ice, shoveling snow and lifting groceries.

The man allegedly continued to receive ongoing pain management treatment from his Wisconsin doctor. Evidence later showed the doctor was billing $15,000-$20,000 a month for these treatments.

A judge found the insurance company was not liable for unpaid bills and stated they were not required to continue to pay for future treatments. Those unpaid bills amounted to over $250,000 and future medical expenses that were estimated as high as $11 million.


Insurance Fraud Headlines for June 30, 2015

Here are the top insurance fraud stories for today:

* 5 of the most common used car buying scams (Yahoo Finance)

* U.S. Cities With The Most Stolen Cars (Forbes)

* Is Your Town a Hot Spot for Vehicle Theft? (

* Surveillance footage contradicts injury claim (Command Investigations)

Insurance Fraud Headlines for June 24, 2015

Here are the top insurance fraud stories for today:

* 2014 Hot Spots for Vehicle Theft (NICB)

* As Used Car Listings Boom, Car Shoppers Should Watch Out for Scams (Autotrader)

* 4 Arrests Made in Florida Injury Clinic PIP Fraud (Insurance Journal)

* Watch My Car! San Francisco Has Greatest Risk for Car Theft (Bloomberg)


2014 Hot Spots Vehicle Theft Report

stolen-carDes Plaines, Ill—California’s San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) had the nation’s highest per capita vehicle theft rate in 2014, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s (NICB) latest Hot Spots report. NICB’s Hot Spots report examines vehicle theft data obtained from the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) for each of the nation’s MSAs. MSAs are designated by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and often include areas much larger than the cities for which they are named. For example, the Bakersfield, Calif., MSA includes all thefts within the entire county of Kern, not just the city of Bakersfield. Moreover, as a population-based survey, an area with a much smaller population and a moderate number of thefts can—and often does—have a higher theft rate than an area with a much more significant vehicle theft problem and a larger population to absorb it. For 2014, the 10 MSAs with the highest vehicle theft rates were: (thefts in parentheses)


Although vehicle thefts are down dramatically around the nation, the reasons they are stolen remain the same. Older vehicles are stolen primarily for their parts value while newer, high- end vehicles often are shipped overseas or, after some disguising, sold to an innocent buyer locally.

Others, meanwhile, are still taken for the oldest of motivations—a “joyride” and when the thrill is gone, it is abandoned undamaged. The full Hot Spots report is available at NICB recommends that drivers follow our four “layers of protection” to guard against vehicle theft: Common Sense The common sense approach to protection is the easiest and most cost- effective way to thwart would-be thieves. You should always:

  • Remove your keys from the ignition
  • Lock your doors /close your windows
  • Park in a well-lit area

Warning Device — The second layer of protection is a visible or audible device which alerts thieves that your vehicle is protected. Popular devices include:

  • Audible alarms
  • Steering column collars
  • Steering wheel/brake pedal lock
  • Brake locks
  • Wheel locks
  • Theft deterrent decals
  • Identification markers in or on vehicle
  • VIN etching
  • Micro dot marking

Immobilizing Device — The third layer of protection is a device which prevents thieves from bypassing your ignition and hot-wiring the vehicle. Some electronic devices have computer chips in ignition keys. Other devices inhibit the flow of electricity or fuel to the engine until a hidden switch or button is activated. Some examples are:

  • Smart keys
  • Fuse cut-offs
  • Kill switches
  • Starter, ignition, and fuel pump disablers
  • Wireless ignition authentication
Tracking Device — The final layer of protection is a tracking device which emits a signal to police or a monitoring station when the vehicle is stolen. Tracking devices are very effective in helping authorities recover stolen vehicles. Some systems employ “telematics” which combine GPS and wireless technologies to allow remote monitoring of a vehicle. If the vehicle is moved, the system will alert the owner and the vehicle can be tracked via computer.

Here’s a report from Bloomberg Radio on the trend in California.

Insurance Fraud Headlines for June 19, 2015

Here are the top insurance fraud stories for today:

* Authorities Arrest Doctor, 3 Others in Complex Insurance Fraud Scam (NewsChief)

* Twelve charged in Western District of Kentucky as part of largest national Medicare fraud take-down in history (WHAS-TV)

* Car Thieves Now Targeting Vehicles for Parts (Insurance Journal)

* Car Shopping? How to Identify Flood Damage Before Buying (NY Times)



Insurance Fraud Headlines for June 18, 2015

Here are the top insurance fraud stories for today:

* Wheels and Tires Disappearing in Detroit (NICB)

* Authorities arrest 243 people in $712 million Medicare fraud (Reuters)

* Vernon Counselors Charged With Medicaid Fraud (Courant)

* Questionable mileage claims in workers’ compensation claims  (Command Investigations)


Tires and Rims Disappearing Off Cars in Detroit

While car thefts are declining across the country, the thefts of some parts and accessories are proving to be a lucrative business for professional thieves.

In the Detroit area, it’s become a huge problem that‘s costing consumers, insurance companies, car dealers and car rental companies.

“We hear all this good news about auto theft being down in Michigan, but unfortunately, what’s replaced that is component theft,” said Terri Miller, executive director of Help Eliminate Auto Thefts (HEAT). “Because it’s harder to steal an entire vehicle these days, they’re stealing the parts. The tires and rims are not marked and they are very, very marketable.”

Cars up on blocks, missing their tires and rims, are a frequent sight in the Detroit area.

Cars up on blocks, missing their tires and rims, are a frequent sight in the Detroit area.

Organized crime rings are targeting newer vehicles parked in neighborhoods, in parking lots, even at dealer lots – anywhere they can quickly jack the car up, remove the wheels, and leave it sitting on blocks.

Rental car companies have been particularly hard hit with hundreds of newer model cars targeted.

In some cases, thieves break the window, pop the hood and disable the gear shift to put the car in neutral. They then use another vehicle to push the car away to a nearby empty garage or lot where they can safely strip it.

According to Michigan State Police Detective Lieutenant Ray Collins of the Southeast Auto Theft Team (SEATT), the person stealing the tires and rims may be paid $150 to $400 for their work but more money is made by the middle man who resells the stolen property to smaller tire dealers or collision repair shops for $700 to $900. The repair shop may then install those tires and rims on a car and bill an insurance company for $1,200 or $1,300. And an insurance company has likely already paid a claim for those same stolen tires and rims.

Some of the 240 tires and rims recovered by law enforcement following a lengthy theft investigation.

Some of the 240 tires and rims recovered by law enforcement following a lengthy theft investigation.

Unless a thief is literally caught in the act, trying to prove a theft is frustrating for law enforcement. One lengthy investigation led officers to recover some 240 tires and rims from shops that were allegedly reselling them. But tracking them back to the owners will be difficult since tires and rims are not marked with any identification records.

“I encourage people to put some kind of identifying mark on their tires and rims,” said Collins. “If they report them stolen, we may be able to tie them back to the victims if we recover them.”

Some manufacturers are working on technology to help track these parts when they are stolen, but there’s no immediate solution on the horizon.

For more information, watch this video.

Anyone with information concerning these thefts can call the HEAT hotline at 1-800-242-HEAT.