Automobile Break-Ins, It’s that time of year….

This article was inspired by an actual event that happened to me just this past week when my own car was broken into.  I was parked in a well lit area outside a very nice restaurant in my own town, which boasts one of the lowest crime rates around.  It is by all accounts a wonderful city to live in and raise children.  However around this time of year when lots of people are out shopping and keep their purchases in their cars or in areas that are known to be frequented by business people who more often than not have laptop computers with them, you will find the number of smash-and-grab style auto break-ins increasing.  My own break-in happened at about 6:30pm, not late at night as some would expect.

There are a few things to consider here.  One goes back to Proximity, which I’ve talked a lot about in the past.  You see, the lot my car was parked in happens to be just a few blocks from a freeway that passes through my town.  According to the officer who took my police report thieves come in from other towns via this freeway, get off the exit in our town, hit a few parking lots and break into some cars and then get right back on the freeway and off they go.  So, even in a very safe town if you happen to be near a freeway that connects it to other less desirable cities you’re likely to find higher risk of crime than if you were miles away from that freeway.

Another thing to think about is what exactly you store in your vehicle.  I recently wrote an article talking about various items I keep in my vehicle.  Even though I just had two windows smashed and two backpacks stolen I will stand by that recent article.  For one thing, none of the items I talked about in that post were taken.  The thieves only wanted the two backpacks I had in the car.  One was my everyday backpack that contains my laptop, the other was my bug-out-bag.

What I will consider revising is the list of contents I’ve been recommending for a bug-out-bag.  There are two items in particular that I’m thinking of taking off the list. Those would be photocopies of your driver’s license and health insurance i.d. cards.  I’m afraid the risk of identity theft may outweigh the usefulness of having these copies with me.  Perhaps the answer is to keep these items locked in the glove box.  Thieves rarely take the time to fully plunder a car, they seem to prefer a quick smash and grab.  In my recent break-in they didn’t even bother to take an expensive pair of sunglasses that were sitting in the center console.  I need to think a bit more about this but would love to hear what you all think.

~ Butch

7 Responses to Automobile Break-Ins, It’s that time of year….

  1. Sounds like (1) you need to consider hiding your belongings a bit better and (2) driving a worse car. If you drive an old crappy car like mine, thieves would likely bypass any backpacks inside because they figure they’re full of old gym socks. ;) Anyway, sorry to hear you had your stuff stolen, that sucks. Hopefully you didn’t have anything very personal on your laptop that could be used to steal your identity. Better look into that.

  2. Thieves who smash and break do not want info. They may have sold that laptop within the hour tp a mother who wants it for a child. My laptop will track itself, and the first time it is opened will alert the company that tracks my computer. I doubt that would help to get it returned.

    Put your good-looking backpack in a back pack or duffel bag that does not scream laptop. Or, put it on the floor and cover with a crumpled DARK blanket. Or, take lots of old clothes and just toss over the backpack, making it invisible. After dark, thieves are not shining a flashlight into the back seat. They depend on you visible junk. They depend on restaurant lights, parking lot lights, so camouflaged stuff in the car is not visible. Toss a coat carelessly over a small item. Make it look like you are really messy, not organized and prepared.

    I worked in inner-city schools for several years. I allowed my high-end car to become filthy. It was white with chrome, but it ended up looking like a piece of trash. My university and work friends teased me.

    When in grad school, I carried lots of information in notebooks where I kept notes. There were few laptops amongst students back then. Before I left the car and my opened my messenger bag so that the edges of all the file folders and spirals of the notebooks were visible. In the eight years of working and going to school, parking in mall lots and shady areas day and night, no one ever bothered my visible “stuff,” all valuable to me but not to anyone else. Well, no co-workers or fellow students were the smash and grab type, otherwise my research and class notes would have been valuable.

    When I charge my cell phone or camera, I stuff either one under the seat, still attached and plugged into the cigarette lighter. I use only a black cord, not the cute pink one I bought and returned. It was a liability. In order to hide the glow from the charger plugged into the cigarette lighter, I throw a coat, scarf, or plastic bag over it.

    Messiness signals a “who cares” attitude that says you probably have nothing of interest. Neatness and backpacks visible says “I care” and “I probably have expensive stuff.”

    Since tablets and smart phones are so much smaller, I feel that thieves will target smaller items, ones that might not hide a larger laptop.

    This, to me, would be a good camouflage. Get a tp box or a cereal box that will hold your gear. Take a piece of cloth or old clothing. Sew or tie rick rack, ribbons, gaudy colors, scraps of fabric, anything cheap and uninteresting to thieves. By crudely sewing it down, you will not have scraps of rick rack or pink ribbons spilling from the box or the vehicles. Just make sure the cloth for the camouflage blanket looks like solid rick rack, not just bits attached. You could attack six feet of rick rack in three places and allow the rest to free range across the points of contact to the cloth backing and the rest of the sewing notions.
    You will have a “camouflage” blanket for the city. Unless you have a crafty smash and grab thief, no one would look in the box that holds your gear.

    If you do not want the box in the car, just break it down so it lies flat. Then, when you set it up in the car, it will still hold items if the bottom is not taped. After all, this is not for carrying, just containing.

    This identical information is in a post for this next week on my blog.

  3. I always leave my car unlocked and have removed anything of value from it.

  4. Driving a crappy old car will not always save you from break-ins. A few years ago I had a beaten-up old hatchback with rust & dents; the inside had a fair amount of worthless junk all over the back seat and nothing of any real value was showing. The car was broken in to in a shopping centre car park mid morning while other, better cars around it were untouched.

    I actually caught the guy carefully sorting thru the rubbish and chased him around the car park, but he was WAY fitter than me & got away. Looking back at it, he probably chose my car because it was old and unlikely to have an alarm.

    Nowadays, my advice is to have an insanely loud alarm and to bolt down anything you don’t want stolen (under some camouflage of course).

  5. That’s important advice about having your critical paperwork in your bugout bag, thanks.

    Definitely, Milleniumfly’s comment about driving a crappy car is helpful, and also it’s important that people don’t leave anything that looks like it might be valuable easily visible in their cars and to have a car alarm.

    After all, not too many thieves will hang out to ransack an empty-looking crappy car with an alarm going off at 6:30pm.

  6. Having photocopies of items in your bag is a good idea in all circumstances except when someone steals the bag. In an attempt to circumvent that, rather than keeping photocopies (used to also have a CD copy), I use a secure, encrypted flash drive that will reformat after a given number of failed password attempts. Yes, I realize that nothing digital is fully secure, but I don’t think that the typical breaking or entering is going to result in a techie scouring the remnants of my flash drive’s memory in attempt to find my “personal numbers.” Could it happen? Yes, but I think the probability is low. Having said all of that, my windows are darkly tinted which helps prevent people from seeing in without making a considered effort and the few things that aren’t stashed away in a cubby are covered by old fleece in the rear floorboard of my truck.

    I was a police officer for seven years (now only doing it as a hobby). Most vehicle thefts in the jurisdictions I’ve worked in were merely moments of opportunity. I’ve found no one type of vehicle (new or junker) to be any safer than anyother. There’s a lot we can to lessen the risk of victimization, but it’s nothing but a chance happening of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  7. Well, I actually knew a couple car prowlers when I was younger. Not my line of work, mind you, but I met them along the way. Few things I learned.

    Alarms aren’t all that. If what you have in the car is obviously valuable, they will work around it. Good OpSec means there shouldn’t be anything obviously valuable.

    No particular car or location is “safe”. I try to park facing the road in good light, but just to cover my bases. It makes VERY little difference.

    Hiding the phone/GPS/whatever under the seat and thinking thieves won’t notice the cord is foolishness. If you earn your living by seeing such things, then you develop a very keen eye.

    The identity thief issue is larger now than it was back then, and it is a big issue. Your garden variety car prowler probably isn’t an identity thief, but he can probably get hold of one. Your information is just another item for him to sell. Don’t think for 10 seconds he’ll overlook it. The bit in the comments about your laptop being sold to a mother buying it for her kids is sweet, but mostly nonsense. Most crooks deal with crooks – it’s much simpler that way.

    Hope this helps someone. I think it’s helped me. I only had my car broken into once, and there was nothing taken.