Experts offer tips to avoid car thefts, minimize harm

CHICAGO (WGN) — New FBI data shows that carjackings were one of the crimes that rose substantially from 2021 to 2022, jumping 8.1%. While the victims involved in some incidents weren’t hurt, others found themselves violently attacked.

While avoiding a car theft may not always be possible, crime experts say there are some steps that can be taken to avoid serious injury and minimize the impact of a crime.

George McDade, the chairman at Cook County Crime Stoppers and retired Chief of Detectives for the Chicago Police Department Eugene Roy, shared tips about how to avoid a carjacking and any injuries or ongoing issues that may come as a result. 

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Some cities, like Chicago, have seen an outsized spike in car thefts. According to Chicago Police Dept. statistics, car thefts across the city have increased by 68% since last year and 200% since 2021.

Crime experts say there are several reasons why a criminal may steal a vehicle. Some may use the stolen vehicle to commit more crimes, making it difficult for police to track down specific individuals involved, while others may steal the vehicle for parts.

Roy said certain models of vehicles lack the technology to deter car theft. Some Hyundai and Kia vehicles are easy targets as they lack engine immobilizers, making the vehicles especially susceptible to theft.

In late August, city officials said there had been a surge in thefts of Kia and Hyundai models. According to the city, about 500 of the cars had been stolen in the first half of 2022 and the number jumped to more than 8,350 during the second half of the year.

The City of Chicago even filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers, following the increase in thefts involving the vehicles.

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Avoiding a carjacking

According to McDade, vehicle thefts happen quickly, and it is best to maintain an awareness of one’s surroundings and be prepared to leave a situation that may make someone feel uncomfortable. 

“Offenders look for opportunity — secluded areas, bottlenecks,” McDade said. “Pay attention to your surroundings. If you don’t feel comfortable, trust your instincts. If you think you are being followed, call 911 and go to a police station. The 911 operator can dispatch officers to you or give you the address to the closest station.”

McDade said leaving extra space between vehicles at a stop light could offer a potential victim the chance to get away.

“If you stop at a traffic light, leave enough distance between you and the car in front of you. If you see several people running at your car, this might give you the opportunity to drive away before they get there,” McDade said.

Roy said one of the tactics used by criminals to steal a vehicle involves disorienting and distracting a driver by rear-ending or “bumping” their vehicle while waiting at a stop light. The criminals involved are usually looking to get the driver out of their car to inspect potential damage so they can distract them from the threat of robbery or carjacking.

“What they’re trying to do is, they want you to stop. They want you to get out of the car, they want you to be confused, they want you to be apologetic. They want you to be off your game so that they can either pull you out of the car, rob you, or rob other passengers you have in your car,” Roy said. “They’re trying to distract you, they don’t want you to focus on what you’re doing, they don’t want you to focus on the possible threat.”

Roy said the best practice in this type of situation is to trust one’s instincts. 

“If somebody does bump you and you’re not comfortable, trust your instincts. Do not just get out of the car and go to see if there is any damage to your bumper, just drive away, go to a safe location, and call 911 from there,” Roy said.

Potential car thieves may also follow their victim before committing a carjacking. McDade said people who worry they are being followed should drive to the nearest police station or try and notify officers using their horn or lights. 

“Watch and see if you are being followed,” McDade said. “If you think so call 911. Drive to a police station. If you see a squad car, beep your horn, turn on emergency flashers.”

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Minimizing harm

Personal information left inside of a vehicle could offer thieves another opportunity to steal from their victims. McDade said it is best to avoid attaching house keys to car keys. 

“Many of us attach our house and work keys to our car keys. We normally have insurance cards, car registration in our vehicle. These have our home addresses on them. Offenders will search your car,” McDade said. “If they took your wallet or purse, you may have ID that shows your name and address. So, keep car keys separate. If they take your car, they won’t have access to your home.”

McDade said remembering the license plate number on a vehicle can also help speed up the process as officers search for a stolen vehicle. It is best to take steps to remember the number or have it written down in an easily accessible location to offer to the police.

“Many of us get the license plate issued, we really don’t pay attention to the plate number. If you have a business card or even a scrap piece of paper, write down your plate number. It will help speed up the process for police once your car is taken,” McDade said. “Keep that card or paper separate in a pocket. When you are a victim of a carjacking, likely you will be victim of robbery of your personal possessions, phone, money, wallet, etc.”

If someone does fall victim to a carjacking, complying with the offender’s request offers victims the best chance to get away unharmed, McDade said.

“If you are the victim and could not get away, comply to offender’s request. Leave keys in the car and step away. If they want your money and cellphone give it to them. Complying usually reduces chances of you getting hurt,” McDade said. “Remember in hijacking or carjacking there is more than one offender, average is three to five offenders and some or all are armed. Resisting may escalate the aggressiveness of the offenders. Offenders know the longer they are at a scene the more chances of someone else seeing and reporting it and them getting caught.”

In the event offenders do become violent during a car theft, avoiding injury becomes a priority.

“If offenders do start to physically strike you, then you must decide your reactions. There is no clear safety. Run, they may shoot, fight back, more may join in against you,” McDade said. “If they hit you and you fall down, cover your face and head with your arms. Stay away from the vehicles and tires.”

McDade said while it can be frustrating to have property stolen, avoiding serious injury or death is more important than stopping the crime. 

“Your car can be replaced. We work hard to buy things we need. It is tough to watch someone just want to take it away from us,” McDade said. “Getting hurt or killed is a big price to pay for your property. It may be tough times in replacing it. But you are safe.”

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After falling victim to a crime, experts say the first step is to call the police. According to McDade, victims should try to remain calm and do their best to remember any characteristics of the offenders.

“Try to remember what offenders looked like. Best way to guess height and weight, think of a family member or friend who is similar.” McDade said. “Remember a feature that was eye-catching, shoes, lettering, colors.”

After notifying police, McDade advises victims to file a police report and notify their insurance company.

“Be involved, give information that will help police catch offenders. Go to court when they are arrested,” McDade said. Experts offer tips to avoid car thefts, minimize harm

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