Car thefts are surging and, like many unpleasant things, it’s being blamed on the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
A report from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) traces the surge in car thefts, carjackings, and stolen catalytic converters to events occurring in the last two years. It shows that in the first half of 2022, nearly a half million vehicles were reported stolen. The total losses were about $4.5 billion.
Compared to the first half of 2019, a year before the pandemic changed life overnight, auto thefts were up 25%. The report predicts that 100,000 more vehicles will have been stolen by the end of 2022 in comparison to pre-pandemic totals.
"There is very little deterrent to stopping these criminals because vehicle thefts are property crimes," said David Glawe, president and CEO of the NICB. "Since the start of the pandemic, used car prices have increased 35% to 40%. Criminals are exploiting these high prices as vehicle and catalytic converter thefts are crimes of opportunity. And crime is a business, and business is good."
Catalytic converter thefts have risen because the rare earth metals contained in the devices bring a premium on the black market. Russia is one of the two main sources of these metals and since the Russia-Ukraine war began exports of these metals have been almost nonexistent.
Pandemic-related supply chain issues created a shortage of new cars, driving up the price of used cars and trucks. Your vehicle, regardless of its age and condition, may be worth more today than it was two years ago, and car thieves know it.
Cities where car thefts are most likely
According to NICB, the U.S. is seeing the highest vehicle theft numbers since 2008, and the organization admits there is almost no hope for a downward trend in these numbers anytime soon. Some cities were hit harder than others in the first half of 2022.
Denver posted a 155% increase in car thefts while Philadelphia reported a 106% increase. Austin’s car thefts were up 64% over the first half of 2019. Glawe blames a decline in enforcement activity.
"To stop this lawlessness, we must focus our attention on these criminals and take back our streets," he said. "We must re-invest in our law enforcement."
In the meantime, NICB says vehicle owners will have to step up their vigilance to protect their car or truck. In addition to always locking the vehicle, always park in well-lit areas.
Consider installing motion sensor security lights. While lights may not provide complete security, they may make some thieves think twice and look for an easier target.