Last year, more than 23,000 vehicles were stolen in Alberta—the highest number of thefts compared to any other province, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada—and police forces across the province have reported a surge in vehicle-related break-ins, with Calgary in particular seeing nearly 1,000 per month in 2017.
Besides causing a massive headache, these are serious crimes that have far reaching impact beyond the immediate victims. Together, we can put a large dent in these crimes. Here’s what you need to know and how to prevent them from happening to you.
THEFT TO COMMIT FURTHER CRIMES
Far too often, auto theft is a crime of opportunity, committed by people who want to undertake further crimes.
“It’s very common for people to steal vehicles for the purpose of going from location to location, and using them for all kinds of different crimes,” says Staff Sergeant Jodi Gach of the Calgary Police Service’s Investigative Operations Section. Among those crimes: robberies and break-and-enters, delivering drugs, and sometimes just simple joyriding.
A much smaller percentage of vehicles are stolen as part of more organized criminal enterprises. These cars tend to be either stripped for parts, or they’re “re-VINned” (that is, their Vehicle Identification Number is fraudulently changed) and shipped out of the country to be sold to unsuspecting buyers.
“On average we have about 100 to 120 vehicles stolen each week in Calgary,” Gach says. “We recover close to 90 percent of them. Which tells us that around 10 percent of these cars are being shipped elsewhere.”
THE PUBLIC-SAFETY PROBLEM
It’s not just having your car stolen that you need to worry. It’s also a major threat to road safety.
“When you have someone stealing a car, quite often that person also has a complete disregard for the rules of the road,” Gach says, indicating the most significant challenge in policing auto theft aside from the theft itself.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that every day we see people driving stolen vehicles in a way that puts the public at risk,” she adds. “People are running red lights, they’re driving at life-threatening speeds, and in some instances they’re also drug- or alcohol-impaired.”
You can probably guess the dangers here: the safety of innocent drivers and pedestrians is imperiled; other cars are often hit; public and private property is damaged. There’s also the fact that as insurance claims related to these crimes increase, so too will premiums for all drivers.
The problem is bad enough that Calgary Police have posted aerial footage of car thieves driving dangerously, in hopes of encouraging vehicle owners to be more vigilant against theft. Having your car stolen is not only a major inconvenience to you, it also puts others at risk on the road.
BREAK-INS FOR IDENTITY THEFT
Of course, you can still be victimized by automotive crime without having your entire vehicle stolen. Criminals also target cars for the purpose of committing identity theft. They break in—or open an unlocked door—in order to take the purse that’s been the left on the passenger’s seat, or registration documents from the glove box.
“It’s still quite common for people to carry things like birth certificates or Social Insurance cards along with their banking cards,” says Cory Dayley, staff sergeant in the Calgary Police Service’s Cyber/Forensics Unit. “Combined with other insurance or registration papers from within the vehicle, it can all help a criminal to put together a package that supports a false identity,” making it easier for the thief to, for example, open up a bank account in your name.
Dayley reports that as recently as January, Calgary police officers were seeing 10-plus vehicle break-ins daily where identity documents or bank and credit cards were explicitly targeted. Once that information has been acquired, identity thieves often move quickly to attempt to open accounts, secure loans or redirect mail.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to guard against both the outright theft of your vehicle and identity theft due to an automotive break-in:
• Always lock your doors
• Be vigilant about where you keep your keys and/or key fob
• Don’t leave your vehicle running while unattended
• Park in a well-lit area whenever possible
• If you park in a garage at home, keep it locked
• If there are valuables stored in your vehicle, keep them out of sight
• Don’t leave your car insurance and registration in the glovebox
• Install an alarm system if your car didn’t come equipped with one
• Purchase a steering wheel club and use it—especially if you have an older vehicle
To learn even more about securing your vehicle against theft, visit ama.ab.ca.