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To help avoid becoming a victim of identity theft, do not leave items of any value in plain sight in a parked vehicle. Stock photo
Community CommentaryOpinion

Stephan: Vehicle theft is a crime of opportunity

Auto theft is a common crime in San Diego County that affects victims in many ways.

Across the county, there were more than 11,300 auto thefts last year, representing about $140 million in losses, according to statistics from the San Diego Association of Governments.

In fact, last year our office filed more than 850 cases against 900 defendants for auto theft-related charges.

Thankfully, our region has a Regional Auto Theft Taskforce (RATT) that works to reduce vehicle theft in San Diego County. They have taken down many criminal auto theft rings that have led to prosecutions and ultimately jail time for criminals. 

Auto theft uniquely disrupts the victim’s life, especially in a vehicle-centered city like San Diego where almost every aspect of your daily living revolves around your vehicle.

From being unable to get to work, school and doctor’s appointments to buying food, the theft of your vehicle can be devastating.

But there are ways to be proactive, so you do not become a victim of auto theft. 

Here are some simple tips that can reduce your probability of becoming a victim of auto theft:

• Do not leave your vehicle doors unlocked. Criminals are opportunists and they will find their way into an unlocked vehicle sooner or later.

• Do not leave items of any value in plain sight in a parked vehicle. 

• Do not leave your keys in your vehicle.

• Do not leave keys hanging on a hook in your garage.

• Do not leave your garage door open.

• Do not store a spare key in your garage or second vehicle.

• Do not leave your vehicle unattended while it is running.

• Do not assume your vehicle is safe to be left unlocked because you live in a gated area or have an enclosed parking garage.

• Do not leave car keys in a lockbox attached to your vehicle while at the beach or on a hike. 

• To avoid becoming a victim of identity theft in addition to auto theft, do not leave valuable items in your vehicle. 

The harm to victims is compounded when valuables, wallets, checkbooks or phones are left in a vehicle, and it is stolen.

If a thief gains access to personal identifying information such as your driver’s license or credit card, they can illegally use your personal information to make purchases and steal your identity.

Some thieves may try to resell your vehicle, and if you leave the vehicle title in the vehicle, the bad actor can attempt to transfer title or sell your vehicle to an unsuspecting innocent buyer.

Earlier this summer, RATT completed a two-year investigation involving 50 defendants. The undercover operation recovered 172 stolen vehicles, drugs and firearms.

RATT’s mission cannot be fulfilled without the help of the public. If you have tips or information on vehicle thefts, please let RATT know on the anonymous tip line: 1-888-TELLRAT (888-835-5728).

Summer Stephan is District Attorney of San Diego County.

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