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National Insurance Crime Bureau Report for 2012 now published

The latest figures are out and, yet again, the list of hotspots is dominated by California. One possible explanation is that there are simply more vehicles of the type thieves want to steal available on the streets of these cities. There's a vast amount of wealth and this often betrays itself through the status of being seen in desirable vehicles. Alternatively, the business of being a thief has been professionalized and it finds more work in California than anywhere else. Here's the top ten for 2012:

1. Modesto, CA

2. Fresno, CA

3. Bakersfield, CA

4. Stockton-Lodi, CA

5. Yakima, WA

6. San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA

7. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA

8. Vallejo-Fairfield, CA

9. Spokane-Spokane Valley, WA

10. Redding, CA

The data released by the National Insurance Crime Bureau confirms the statistical trend announced by the FBI that, after eight years of decline, vehicle thefts are increasing again. In the Western states, the increase is 10.6%. Other parts of the country showed continuing small declines creating a national increase of 1.4%. The effect on vehicle owners is therefore going to be an increase in the auto insurance quotes for comprehensive cover. The higher the rate of vehicle thefts per head of population in your area, the higher the rates will be. Looking the other way, no vehicle was reported stolen on Maui, Hawaii in 2012. So what's the latest threat?

Hacking vehicles

In the good old days, breaking into vehicles usually relied on brute force to open the door lock and ignition. Then thieves grew slightly more sophisticated and instead of carrying a screwdriver around with them, they went for cutting the wires and splicing them together as the preferred means of driving away. If the plan is to resell the stolen car, the less visible damage the better. What has now happened is a direct result of increasing computerization. With software to control all the major systems in your vehicle, thieves now need a technological solution. This video shows thieves have developed a means of hacking your vehicle so it unlocks itself and disables the alarm. In just a few minutes, thieves can strip out the high-end electronics for resale or steal the vehicle:

Bait cars

Some makes and models of vehicle are well-known to thieves as being easy to break into or steal so a fairly obvious strategy is to leave cars matching this list in and around areas the police know have a higher rate of crime. Each of the vehicles is equipped with cameras and sone have immobilizers so that, if the thieves attempt to drive away, the doors can be locked remotely and the engine switched off until the arresting officers arrive. Why should local insurance companies cooperate by subsidizing the cost and fitting out of these vehicles. Because anything done to reduce the rate of thefts saves them money (and reduces the car insurance quotes for their policyholders). Here's a report of the success in Albuquerque:

The use of these vehicles has dropped the city down the list of hotspots to 20th. This is still not great but it's a major improvement on where they were before and a clear indication that a deterrent approach works, but it takes time and only eliminates the unlucky amateurs. Keeping this real, in a large city, having a dozen or so bait cars out on the streets waiting to be stolen is not the most efficient way of catching thieves.

What can you do to protect yourself?

This is a mixture of common sense and reliance on technology. While at home, you should try to keep the vehicle off the road and out of sight. If you don't have a garage or lockable area, leave the vehicle in a well-lit area where it's as visible as possible. Hopefully, this will deter potential thieves. When out in the town or city, park in a well-lit area which has as much pedestrian traffic as possible. The greater the chance someone may see a break-in, the greater the deterrent value. It should not be necessary to remind you to take the keys with you when you leave the vehicle, closing the windows and locking the doors.

If you want to spend some money, first speak to your insurers to find out which equipment they prefer and will reward with discounts. You start with alarm systems that make a loud noise. This potentially drives the thieves away. To add to the disincentives, you can place highly visible locks on the steering wheel and the brakes. These tell the potential thieves there will be a delay in removing the protections. The longer the thief must remain in the vehicle wrestling with your devices, the greater the chance he or she will be noticed. You can then up the stakes by installing an immobilizing device to stop the flow of electricity to the ignition or of gas to the engine. If you think all this might fail, fit a tracking device. This explains how LoJack works.

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