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Another unfortunate side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is a rise in car thefts and an increased risk to car safety. Reports last fall noted a 10.9% climb in car thefts from 2019 to 2020. With so many vehicles parked because people lost their jobs or worked remotely, thieves helped themselves to over 880,000 cars, SUVs, and trucks in 2020.

One of the biggest heists was pulled off by an interstate car theft ring that reportedly stole $1.5 million in luxury vehicles beginning in July 2019.

An elite car theft ring

The FBI busted a prolific car theft ring.
The FBI seal on a building | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

According to a U.S. District Court case filed in New Jersey in January 2021, among the stolen vehicles were a 2016 Mercedes Maybach S600, a 2019 Porsche Cayenne, and a 2017 Mercedes S550. Three suspects also swiped a 2019 Rolls-Royce, a 2019 Land Rover, and a 2019 Maybach. Law enforcement recovered one of the stolen vehicles from a shipping container at the port in Newark bound for Ghana, Africa.

The stolen vehicles have an estimated total value of over $1.5 million.

The culprits and the consequences

Earlier in 2021, a fourth suspect was arrested for his part in a conspiracy to steal luxury cars and transport them across state lines. The vehicles were stolen from towns in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey.

Bilal Cureton of Newark, New Jersey — along with Malik Baker, Hakeem Smith, and Nafique Goodwyn — has been charged with conspiracy to transport stolen vehicles in interstate commerce. Since July 2019, the four defendants, along with others, stole and planned to steal as many as 10 luxury cars from Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York. They hid the vehicles in Irvington, New Jersey, and frequently used the stolen vehicles to swipe other vehicles.

If convicted of conspiracy to transport stolen vehicles, each could face a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine or twice the loss or gain from the offenses, whichever is larger.

What caused the recent rise in car thefts?


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The spike in auto thefts came after a two-year decline. There hasn’t been such a stark rise in car thefts for the past 30 years, David Glawe, the president and CEO of the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), told USA Today.

Kelley Blue Book reports some areas have been harder hit than others. Washington, D.C., has seen a 40% in vehicle theft, and Colorado has faced a 36% jump. California, Missouri, and New Mexico complete the top five areas with rising car theft rates. Bakersfield, California, holds the distinction of the highest auto theft rate in the nation for the second year in a row.

Why the increase? According to the NICB, due to the pandemic, more cars were parked in 2020 as drivers used them far less. The pandemic caused a rise in unemployment and a reduction in school and social activities. 

However, some states saw a reduction in auto thefts. Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, West Virginia, and Puerto Rico saw a decline in car theft in 2020. 

Vehicle owners are advised to use common-sense methods to protect their cars. Vehicles should be locked and parked in well-lit areas. The keys should never be left in the vehicle. The use of car alarms, immobilization devices, and tracking devices can also deter thieves.