FOCUSING ON MOTOR VEHICLE THEFT Stealing Cars for Fun and Profit

FOCUSING ON MOTOR VEHICLE THEFT Stealing Cars for Fun and Profit

About 556,000 households suffered a vehicle theft (or an attempted vehicle theft) during 2013, a slight bump up from previous years, according to the NCVS. That volume of incidents translated to a rate of a little more than five vehicle thefts for every 1,000 households. The UCR for 2013 indi- cated that police departments across the country received almost 700,000 complaints about com- pleted or attempted thefts of cars, vans, trucks, buses, motorcycles, and ATVs from households (and also from businesses and agencies, which explains why this figure is larger than the number of vehicle thefts estimated by the NCVS), yielding a rate of a bit over 220 thefts for every 100,000 inhabitants. Therefore, both official sources confirm



F I G U R E 4.4 Trends in Burglaries, United States, 1973–2013 NOTE: UCR figures include commercial and office burglaries. SOURCES: FBI’s UCRs 1973–2013; BJS’s NCVSs 1973–2013.


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that vehicle theft takes place much less often than larceny or burglary but is much more common than any of the serious violent crimes in the FBI’s crime index.

Surprisingly, some commentators mistakenly portrayed auto theft as the “happy crime” in which no one loses and everyone gains (see Plate, 1975). Their argument proposes that the thief makes money and that the owner is reimbursed by the insurance company and then enjoys the pleasure of shopping for a new car. Meanwhile, the manufacturer gains a customer who wasn’t due back in the showroom for another couple of years, and the insurance company gets a chance to raise comprehensive fire and theft loss premiums and invest that money in profitable ventures.

But in actuality, most victims of auto theft are quite upset for a number of reasons. Many motor- ists devote a great deal of time, effort, and loving care to keeping their vehicles in good shape. Sec- ond, the shock of discovering that the vehicle van- ished touches off a sense of violation and insecurity that lingers for a long time. Third, not all owners purchase theft coverage, usually because they can- not afford it. Even those who are insured almost always must suffer a hefty deductible out of their own pockets, and they might owe more on the car loan than the vehicle is worth, so the insurance payoff does not cover the outstanding balance they must repay. Personal items left in the vehicle are gone, as are any expensive add-ons. The loss is always unanticipated, necessitating time-wasting emergency measures such as filing a complaint at a police station, taking cabs, renting a car, and canceling important appointments. Many end up buying a more expensive replacement. Finally, motorists who collect insurance reimbursement might find that either their premiums are raised or their policies cannot be renewed.

Collectively, vehicle thefts cost owners nearly $4.1 billion, with losses averaging nearly $6,000 per stolen vehicle in 2013, the UCR reported (FBI, 2014). Insurance coverage for comprehen- sive fire and theft damages and losses cost the average policyholder about $140 per year (III, 2011).

Victims of grand theft auto (also termed grand larceny auto, or GLA) ought to notify the police immediately, since the authorities will assume that the owner was behind the wheel if that stolen vehicle is involved in a crime, such as a hit- and-run, or is used as a getaway car in a bank rob- bery. Also, there is a chance of recovering it if the police locate the vehicle after it is pulled over for a traffic violation, parked, or abandoned. If it is insured for comprehensive fire and theft damage and loss, a case number from a law enforcement agency will be necessary in order to receive reimbursement.

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