As frigid temperatures and wintry blasts have hit a large section of the nation, drivers are increasingly “puffing” – warming up their parked vehicles before heading out on the road. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) warns that leaving an unlocked car running with the keys or fob inside can lead to two unwanted scenarios.
First, it makes your vehicle a prime target for an opportunistic car thief. In fact, one of out every eight vehicles stolen in 2015 had the keys or fob left inside. That can cost you a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars depending on your level of theft insurance.
Second, in an effort to reduce unnecessary thefts, many states and municipalities have passed laws banning “puffing.” It’s illegal to leave the car running and unlocked, even in your driveway. Remote starters that allow you to start the engine while the car is safely locked up without the keys are usually considered a safe alternative.
“Getting a warning or a ticket is preferable to having your car stolen,” said NICB President and CEO Joe Wehrle. “As we’ve reported previously, 57,000 vehicles were stolen in one year with the keys left inside. That’s one every six-and-a-half minutes. And when you add up the costs of replacing those vehicles, it’s hundreds of millions of dollars. Many of those cars are not insured against theft and the owner is left holding the bag and paying for a new car.”
The device obtained by NICB was purchased via a third-party security expert from an overseas company. It was developed by engineers in an effort to provide manufacturers and other anti-theft organizations the ability to test the vulnerability of various vehicles systems. Called a “Relay Attack” unit, this particular model only works on cars and trucks that use a keyless remote and a push-button ignition.
In a series of unscientific tests at different locations over a two-week period, 35 different makes and models of cars, SUVs, minivans and a pickup truck were tested. We partnered with NICB member company CarMax, because they are the nation’s largest used car retailer and have nearly every make and model in their inventory. Tests were also done at a new car dealership, an independent used car dealer, at an auto auction and on NICB employee vehicles and ones owned by private individuals.
The vehicles were tested to see if the device could:
* open the door
* start the vehicle
* drive it away
* turn off and restart the engine without the original fob present
NICB was able to open 54% of the vehicles that were tested.
The NICB was able to open 19 (54 percent) of the vehicles and start and drive away 18 (51 percent) of them. Of the 18 that were started, after driving them away and turning off the ignition, the device was used to restart 12 (34 percent) of the vehicles.
NICB says there are a number of different devices believed to be offered for sale to thieves. Some use different technology and may work on different make and models and ignition systems. More expensive models may have a greater range and better capabilities for opening and starting a vehicle.
“We’ve now seen for ourselves that these devices work,” said NICB President and CEO Joe Wehrle. “Maybe they don’t work on all makes and models, but certainly on enough that car thieves can target and steal them with relative ease. And the scary part is that there’s no warning or explanation for the owner. Unless someone catches the crime on a security camera, there’s no way for the owner or the police to really know what happened. Many times, they think the vehicle has been towed.”
Wehrle says it’s important for law enforcement officers to be aware of this threat and be on the lookout for thieves who may be using the technology.
According to NICB’s Chief Operating Officer Jim Schweitzer, who oversees all NICB investigations, vehicle manufacturers must continue their efforts to counter the attacks on anti-theft technology.
“Vehicles are a valuable commodity and thieves will continue to wage a tug of war with the manufacturers to find a way to steal them,” said Schweitzer. “Anti-theft technology has been a major factor in reducing the number of thefts over the past 25 years. The manufacturers have made tremendous strides with their technology, but now they have to adapt and develop countermeasures as threats like this surface.”
A look at the “mystery device” obtained by NICB.
While there may not be an effective way of preventing this kind of theft at this time, NICB advises drivers to always lock their vehicles and take the remote fob or keys with them. Drivers should also be on the lookout for suspicious persons or activity and alert law enforcement rather than confronting a possible thief.
It’s also a good idea to never invite a break-in by leaving valuables in plain sight. And once thieves get inside, they can easily steal a garage door opener and valuable papers such as the vehicle registration that could lead them to your home. So take the garage door opener with you and take a picture of your registration on your cell phone rather than keeping it in the glove compartment.
Last year, a vehicle was reported stolen once every 45 seconds in the United States. And one out of every eight thefts was a freebie for the thief. There was a theft every six and one-half minutes where the driver left the keys or FOB inside.
It’s a growing problem according to the latest report from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). The 57,096 thefts in 2015 amounted to a 22 percent increase over the previous year. Over the past three years, this kind of theft grew by 31 percent.
Since many people do not admit to leaving their car unlocked with the keys or FOB inside, the actual numbers of thefts with the keys left in vehicles may be considerably higher than the report indicates.
“Anti-theft technology has had a tremendous impact on reducing thefts over the past 25 years, but if you don’t lock it up, it’s not going to help,” said NICB President and CEO Joe Wehrle. “Complacency can lead to a huge financial loss and inconvenience for the vehicle owner. Leaving a vehicle unlocked or with the key or FOB inside gives a thief the opportunity to take not only the car, but also any possessions inside. It can also provide access to your personal information if the registration is left in the glove compartment.
“We have reports from our law enforcement partners that car thieves have stolen the car, driven it to the residence and burglarized the home before the owner even knew the vehicle was missing.”
NICB advises drivers to:
Lock the vehicle, set the alarm and take all keys or FOBS.
Do not leave the garage door opener in the vehicle.
Take a picture of your registration on your cell phone and do not leave the registration or other papers with personal information in the vehicle.
Never leave a car unlocked and running to warm it up or while stopping for a quick cup of coffee. It only takes a moment for the opportunistic thief to jump inside and drive off.
For the years 2013 through 2015, a total of 147,434 were reported stolen with the keys left in the vehicle. In 2013, there were 43,643 thefts; 46,695 thefts in 2014 and 57,096 in 2015. From 2013 to 2015, the increase was 31 percent.
The top five states that posted the most vehicle thefts with keys during this reporting period were California (22,580), Texas (11,003), Florida (9,952), Ohio (8,623) and Nevada (8,073). The top five core-based statistical areas (CBSA) were Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV (7,815), Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI (4,380), Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA (4,118), Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL, (3,847) and Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD (3,365).
One state—Hawaii—had a perfect record. Not a single report of a vehicle theft with keys.
Looking at day-of-week data, Saturday saw the most thefts with (22,081) followed by Monday (21,851) and Friday (21,652).
The full report can be viewed and downloaded here. The full dataset is here. Download an infographic here.
Last March we reported on thieves who are using high-tech electronic devices. These devices would be used to break through the keyless-entry systems that lock up modern cars.
A thief breaks into a vehicle using a “mystery device” – NICB
These “mystery devices” can allegedly read the frequencies emitted from key remotes when clicked, but a thief would need to be standing very close by in order to pull that off. How these devices actually work is still a matter of debate, but the National Insurance Crime Bureau believes there’s no evidence they can start a car.
In this edition of Fraud Files we focus on the mystery device trend and a new one that have become very popular the past year.
DES PLAINES, Ill., April 27, 2015 — In a first-of-its-kind analysis of vehicle thefts released today, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) found a disturbing trend — an increasing number of thefts of vehicles with the keys left inside.
For the years 2012 through 2014, at total of 126,603 vehicles were reported stolen with the keys left in the vehicle.
While overall vehicle thefts are declining, vehicles stolen with keys left inside are trending in the opposite direction.
As a percentage of overall thefts, 5.4 percent of vehicles stolen (39,345) in 2012 had their keys in them. That figure rose to 6 percent (42,430) in 2013, and in 2014, it increased again to 6.7 percent (44,828).
To show the significance of these numbers, if the 44,828 thefts were removed from 2014’s reported estimated total of 659,717*, the thefts would fall to 614,889. The last time national vehicle thefts were that low was 1966.
“Stealing a vehicle is very difficult with today’s anti-theft technology and leaving the keys in the vehicle is an open invitation for the opportunistic car thief,” said NICB President and CEO Joe Wehrle.
“Am I shocked by these numbers? Not one bit. In fact, I’m sure the numbers are probably higher, because we are only able to determine the thefts where the car was recovered with the keys inside, or where someone admitted they left the keys in the car or the ignition. Many times that is not admitted in the police report or the insurance claim. We also see some cases where the owner gives up the car by leaving the keys in it to allow it to be stolen so that an insurance claim payment can help them get out from under a financial bind. Anyone who does that is committing fraud.”
The reasons that people leave keys in their vehicles are numerous, but none of them is worth the hassle of having your car stolen. Leaving your vehicle running while you run into a store for a quick cup of coffee or to warm it up before a chilly winter commute might make sense to an individual, but it creates a perfect moment for a car thief who looks for such an opportunity.
The top five states that posted the most vehicle thefts with keys during this reporting period were California (19,597), Texas (8,796), Florida (7,868), Michigan (7,726), and Ohio (7,452). The top five core-based statistical areas (CBSA) were Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV (6,185), Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI (4,882), Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA (3,234), Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD (3,141) and New York-Newark-Jersey City (2,917).
Looking at day-of-week data, Saturday saw the most thefts with keys (19,147) followed by Friday (18,719) and Monday (18,647).
Anyone with information concerning insurance fraud or vehicle theft can report it anonymously by calling toll-free 800-TEL-NICB (800-835-6422), texting keyword “fraud” to TIP411 (847411) or submitting a form on our website. Or, download the NICB Fraud Tips app on your iPhone or Android device.
About the National Insurance Crime Bureau: headquartered in Des Plaines, Ill., the NICB is the nation’s leading not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to preventing, detecting and defeating insurance fraud and vehicle theft through data analytics, investigations, training, legislative advocacy and public awareness. The NICB is supported by more than 1,100 property and casualty insurance companies and self-insured organizations. NICB member companies wrote $371 billion in insurance premiums in 2013, or more than 78 percent of the nation’s property/casualty insurance. That includes more than 93 percent ($168 billion) of the nation’s personal auto insurance. To learn more visit www.nicb.org.
As we’ve reported over the past few months thieves are finding new ways around technology designed to keep them out of cars. Roger Morris, Chief Communications Officer of the National Insurance Crime Bureau, talked with CBS News correspondent Vladimir Duthiers on how thieves are now able to amplify the signal sent by your car’s key fob to unlock the doors.