After years of declines, car thefts appear to be surging. The spree, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic, does not appear to be the work of sophisticated crime rings, the New York Times reports. Instead, it stems from a combination of carelessness and the technological advancement that once made stealing cars nearly impossible: the key fob. The adoption of keyless ignitions that began in the late 1990s meant that new cars had engine immobilizers that only a microchip in the key fob could unlock. Vehicle thefts plummeted. From a high of 1.7 million a year in 1991, thefts dropped more than 50 percent in recent years.
Then people started leaving their fobs sitting in their cup holders. Police say forgotten fobs and keyless technology have contributed to soaring stolen car cases that do not look like the crimes that plagued cities three decades ago. Hartford, Ct., police blame teens joyriding in from the suburbs. In Los Angeles, stolen cars reappear so frequently that the police believe thieves are using them like Ubers. In New York City, more drivers leave their cars running to make pit stops and deliveries during the pandemic, making their cars easy targets for thieves who can simply drive away. “This is a very stupid problem to have,” a Hartford Police Department official said last month, on a day when five stolen cars were recovered and 12 people were arrested. “The technology that was created specifically to eliminate car thefts, such as key fob technology, is now being used against us.” In New York City, 6,858 vehicles were stolen in 2020, up from 3,988 the year before. From June through December 2020, monthly thefts increased on average 13 percent over the same period in 2019, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. “The numbers are quite staggering,” said the group’s president, David Glawe.