Car theft is rising, and it comes with a new twist — the “smash-and-grab,” or “bipping” if you prefer to use the local dialect. Traditional thieves waited for the cover of darkness or sought remote locations to use lock-defeating tools to cleanly enter cars and trucks so they could search for valuables. Today’s criminals are much bolder. In the blink of an eye, they smash side windows to enter the cabin and quickly access the trunk — boxes, purses, backpacks, and luggage disappear in less than a minute. In the most brazen cases, the thieves strike on crowded streets in broad daylight.
While no type of theft is 100 percent avoidable, there are several steps car, truck, and SUV owners can take to reduce their likelihood of being a victim and losing their valuables and personal belongings.
Be Aware of Where You Are
Smash-and-grab thefts are much more common in some regions of the country than others. San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles have been hard hit. In contrast, this type of theft infrequently targets rural areas and small towns. For this reason, if you are traveling into a major city, be incredibly diligent with your personal effects and take additional precautions — you may want to leave any belongings that you can’t carry back in your hotel room.
Don’t Park with the Tourists
It’s unfortunate, but the reality is that smash-and-grab thieves have been targeting tourists at an alarming rate. Visitors typically travel with luggage, electronics, and cash — locking most in their luggage while they visit must-see spots (e.g., the Golden Gate Bridge, Santa Monica Pier, etc.). Criminals have focused much of their attention on this “low-hanging fruit,” and foreign tourists, traveling with all their belongings, are especially vulnerable. If possible, park a short distance away — out of the venue’s primary parking lot — and walk to the attraction. Or take a cab from the hotel (where your valuables are safely locked in your room).
Be Smart About Where You Park
When choosing a parking spot, look for a visible and busy area — the more active the area, the less desirable it is for those with malicious intentions. Movie theater parking lots welcome thieves as they know owners will be gone for about two hours, which gives criminals plenty of time to break into a vehicle and flee. It’s the same story with shopping malls, golf courses, amusement parks, trailheads, and beaches — most people park and don’t return for more than an hour. If possible, park near a well-trafficked location at the venue (e.g., ticket counter, lifeguard station, driving range, etc.), as others can keep an eye on the vehicle in your absence.
Always Keep Valuables Out of Sight
Smash-and-grab thieves will generally scope out their targets before they hit. They are looking for visible purses, backpacks, phones, and luggage. When possible, carry backpacks and electronics with you. Lock all luggage and bags in the trunk — it is best to place them there at the start of your drive (don’t open the trunk in the parking lot, as criminals may be observing your actions and the contents from a distance).
Lock Your Vehicle
The most essential step, and most important that owners can take to reduce the likelihood of a smash-and-grab, is keeping the vehicle locked and sealed with all the windows up. While this won’t prevent a determined crook, plenty of other motorists will leave their vehicles unlocked, so hopefully, the thief will move to another target. Don’t give the criminals an easy hit.
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