Think Smart to Prevent Car Theft

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A simple lapse in judgment can really cost you.

There were more than 737,000 motor-vehicle thefts in the U.S. in 2010, according to the most recent FBI data. When those thefts take the form of carjacking incidents, the attacker succeeds in about half of all attempts, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Here’s how to avoid ending up on the losing end of this numbers game:

Hide tempting items. When you’re not in the car, think about what would appeal to thieves. Clearly, if they can see purses, computer bags or even the ignition key from the window, you’re setting yourself up for trouble. And it’s more common to lapse into these habits than you’d think: Two of five people fail to hide valuables, according to a joint survey from LoJack and the National Insurance Crime Bureau. One in four people have left a wallet or purse inside, and one-third have kept their automobiles running unoccupied to either warm them up or run an errand.

Stand out. If you don’t have a garage, try to park on a well-lit street with lots of traffic. Also, etch the vehicle identification number on windows and other major parts of the car, so thieves can’t sell them to a chop shop. Law enforcement authorities say this practice will often prompt a car thief to bypass a target.

Lock in before rolling out. When you step inside the car, lock it up right away—before starting the ignition, setting your iPod or GPS, buckling your seatbelt or anything else you normally do when heading out. “It’s one of the easiest ways to stay safe,” says Stuart Haskin, founder and executive director of Get Safe, an organization devoted to safety education and training. “But many people forget to do it.”

Stop smart. You’re potentially vulnerable when stopped or cruising at reduced speeds. So take extra caution when at a stop sign, traffic light, drive-through window and self-service gas stations. “When stopped in traffic, leave enough space to move forward,” says Brent O’Bryan, vice president of learning and development for AlliedBarton Security Services, a physical security firm. Visibility is everything. Criminals prefer to do their dirty work in the shadows. “Don’t head into remote or unfamiliar areas,” O’Bryan says. “If you feel like you’re being followed, don’t drive home. Don’t park next to a vehicle such as a van that could be hiding a suspect.” Manage the incident. If you get involved as a victim in a carjacking, keep your safety and your passengers’ safety foremost in mind. It’s critical to stay calm, because criminals could very well panic if you do. “Never argue; give up your car,” O’Bryan says. “Get away from the area as quickly as possible. Note the suspect’s appearance, and immediately report it to the police.”

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