One out of every eight cars stolen in 2015 could have been the work of a total amateur with no expertise cracking anti-theft devices—or even knowledge of how to break into a locked vehicle. That's because these thefts occurred when the cars were unlocked, and the keys or car's FOB was left inside, according to a new study from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).
And the study says that this breed of car theft is on the rise: There were 57,096 such crimes in 2015, up 22% from the 2014 total (46,695), and an increase of 31% over 2013 (43,643).
These are the officially reported numbers, mind you. They may very well be underestimates because of the tendency of victims to feel too embarrassed to come clean about doing something so dumb and making it easy for someone to rip them off. "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," the NICB study explained.
What's more, victims sometimes wind up losing a lot more than just their cars. Once inside the vehicle, a thief can quickly grab the registration and see where the owner lives. If there's a garage opener in the car, then that's the equivalent of having a key to the front door. “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 President and CEO Joe Wehrle said in the report's press release.
The obvious takeaway here is to always lock your car and take the keys with you when leaving your vehicle, even if it's just to pop inside the pharmacy or coffee shop to run a quick errand.
Take note, also, that we are about to enter peak season for a particular kind of car theft that's depressingly common but quite avoidable. Every winter, reports surface about cars being stolen right outside the owners' homes while they are warming up in the driveway. Try not to be one of the victims, even if it means you have to sit inside a cold car on a frigid January morning.