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With automotive costs hovering, your automobile is a primary goal for thieves

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You can blame the Covid pandemic for another thing: an increase in car thefts.

Vehicle thefts in the United States rose 9% year over year to 873,000, the highest number in more than a decade, according to National Insurance Crime Bureau statistics provided by CNBC's American Greed.

The pandemic created a "perfect storm" of conditions for the increase in car thefts, said NICB President and CEO David Glawe.

"We have a lot of disenfranchised youth who are unemployed and outreach programs are being closed or restricted because of Covid," he said. "There is frustration and anger in society. We are also seeing restrictions on public safety and the withdrawal of proactive police due to budget constraints."

Vehicles are also particularly valuable these days. Due to the scarce supply and strong demand after the pandemic, used car prices have increased by almost 30% compared to the previous year.

The rise in thefts started slowly and coincided with the start of the pandemic in March 2020. They accelerated until last June when the first wave of Covid lockdowns subsided and a second wave loomed. In November, monthly thefts were 18% ahead of 2019.

The biggest jump was in Chicago, where vehicle thefts rose by 134% over the past year, the NICB said. The Chicago police said the number of carjackings had doubled.

"This has been a year that has posed numerous challenges to law enforcement," Chicago Police Commissioner David Brown said in a January statement announcing the numbers.

The numbers have leveled off a bit as pandemic restrictions have eased, but Chicago police data released earlier this month shows thefts are still 9% higher than a year ago.

Elsewhere, thefts rose 68% in New York City and Washington, D.C. by 50%, according to the NICB.

Hot goods

Criminals have long understood how lucrative trading in vehicles can be. An extreme example of another type of vehicle crime in 2014 was serial fraudster and internet influencer T. R. Wright III, who portrayed himself as an arms dealer and an internationally mysterious man.

"All of the Instagram photos showed this person with fancy cars, guns, high-end clothing, high-end vehicles, yachts, jets traveling around the world," said James Reed, agent for the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, opposite "American Greed."

Wright, 36, admitted to being part of a conspiracy that resulted in buying a 2008 Lamborghini Gallardo with a salvage title at a bargain price of $ 76,000, deliberately ditching it, and collecting nearly $ 170,000 in insurance revenue.

Wright pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy in 2018, in a far-reaching scheme that affected not only vehicles but boats and planes as well. Wright, who is serving a five-year prison sentence, told American Greed that he made even more money than prosecutors claim.

"It depends how you do the math, but if you took a total loss, let's say somewhere between $ 30 million and $ 40 million," Wright said.

But much smaller crooks can also strike the vehicle market in a different way, especially with today's high prices. There is a free market for most cars and trucks and their parts.

While Wright bought his Lamborghini through a company he controls, it is remarkably easy for criminals to simply steal vehicles. According to the NICB, more than 10% of the stolen vehicles in 2019 – the last year for which full numbers are available – had the keys inside.

How to thwart the thieves

Since almost all cases lead to an insured event, every policyholder suffers in the form of higher premiums. This is why the NICB urges vehicle owners to protect themselves, especially when the crooks are so active.

Here are some tips, some of which are common sense:

Take your keys out of the ignition when you park the vehicle, or if your car has a remote control key fob, keep it with you even if you only get out of the vehicle for a short time. Close your doors and windows and park in a well-lit area. Do not leave valuables or other items that might pique the interest of thieves in your car. This also includes your garage door opener. Consider keeping a picture of your vehicle registration on your phone instead of leaving the actual document in your glove box. Consider installing a car alarm, as well as a kill switch that can immobilize a stolen vehicle, a GPS tracker that can help authorities locate your vehicle.

You may not own a six-digit Italian sports car, but almost anything you drive is a hot commodity these days.

See social media star T.R. Wright III drove a brazen plot to fame and fortune and hears his own words from prison. Catch a BRAND NEW episode of "American Greed" on Monday, June 21st at 10:00 PM. ET / PT, only on CNBC.

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