Amanda Barbosa had her vehicle parked on a street near her home and it was stolen overnight.

Car theft is usually a crime of opportunity, experts say. To prevent theft, you need to make your vehicle less appealing as a target.

Back in January, Amanda Barbosa headed out to her car to run an errand only to discover it was nowhere to be found.

Barbosa, who lives in Toronto and has a street parking permit, began frantically walking the three different streets where she might have parked her 2008 Toyota Matrix.

“The weather had gotten really cold, and it had snowed a bit, so I was wondering, am I not seeing my car?”

She asked a neighbour for help and even called a towing company, but there was no word on the vehicle. She then called the police to file a report, who put out a search call, but the vehicle was never found.

Vehicle theft from Jan. 1 to May 23, year-over-year, has increased by 61 per cent, according to Toronto police data. Specifically, 3,385 vehicles were stolen between that January to May period in 2022 compared to 2,098 vehicles in that same period the year prior.

While Barbosa will likely never know what happened to her car, there has been an increase in vehicles stolen and “re-vinned,” says Bryan Gast, vice-president of Investigative Services at Équité Association, a not-for-profit focused on reducing and preventing insurance fraud and crime.

Thieves replace the vehicle identification number (VIN) with a fake VIN and sell the car to unsuspecting customers, Gast says.

“With supply-chain issues, this is something that’s been on the rise and trending upwards,” says Gast. Vehicles are also being stolen to be exported, he adds.

So, is there anything you can do to prevent your vehicle from getting pinched?

Most of the time it’s a crime of opportunity, says Nadia Matos, media and public relations consultant at CAA Club Group. To prevent theft, you want to make your vehicle less appealing as a target. But, ultimately, if a thief wants your car, they’ll find a way to make it happen.

Here are some expert tips to slow down car thieves:

Be careful with your keys

To prevent theft, Matos’ first piece of advice is to never leave your car unattended with the keys inside. “We hear about that all the time,” she says. Often, someone might leave their vehicle running in the wintertime when it’s cold to pop back inside and pick up something they’ve forgotten. “It’s always best to just take a second and remove the keys.

When it comes to wireless key fobs, don’t leave your keys hanging by the back door, or worse, the front door or near your car, says George Iny, president of the Automobile Protection Association.

“The key and the car are talking to one another. They chat,” he says. “And there are people who use what are called signal amplifiers to augment the volume between the two and take over. This will unlock and then start the car.”

Matos recommends drivers purchase a “Faraday box” or bag, also known as signal blocking pouches, that can prevent your signal from being hijacked.

Keeping your keys with you when you’re out and about is also wise. On March 18, the Toronto Police warned people that private gym lockers were being broken into to take keys and then steal vehicles. The police urged gym-goers to keep their car keys and fobs with them during workouts.

Clear your garage

If you’re lucky enough to have a garage, use that to your advantage to prevent theft.

People with their garages tend to fill it with junk and leave their vehicles outside, Iny says.

“If you have a new car, and it’s an SUV, particularly brands that are popular like Toyota or Honda CR-V, it’s probably best to leave it indoors if you have private parking.”

And, if you have two cars in your driveway, park the most valuable vehicle inside the garage, Matos adds.

Purchase preventative or recovery devices

Matos recommends car owners consider installing an immobilizer, if your vehicle doesn’t already have one (many newer models do). This is an electronic security device that will only start the engine if the correct key is used, making it harder for anyone to steal your car.

“What it does is help to prevent thieves from bypassing the ignition and hotwiring the vehicle,” she said.

Iny recommends an OBD (on-board diagnostic) lock.

Most cars have a plug similar to a computer port, and it’s used to go into the car’s onboarding computing system. Thieves can use this port to steal a car, but a lock can prevent access.

“If thieves encounter this lock on the OBD port they might move onto another car,” he said.

Iny also recommends a vehicle tracking system and believes the one offered by Tag offers the best value.

Tag will install multiple hidden wireless tracking devices throughout the vehicle, and etch a discreet logo on the front driver and passenger side windows to ward off car thieves.

While the tracking devices themselves won’t prevent car theft, the company will send a tracking team to recover the vehicle.

Keep important car information handy

If your car is stolen, you’ll want to contact the police as soon as possible, Matos says. In those instances, it’s important to have key information on hand to support the police search for the vehicle.

Matos advises owners to take a photo of their car and keep it in a safe place along with its VIN.

Barbosa had been careful to keep her vehicle in a well-lit area, a commonly advised preventative measure, because of news reports of vehicle theft and the sentimental value of the car itself.

Her father had died the year prior, leaving her with the car and memories of the good times spent on fishing trips with her dad.

Barbosa needed another car as soon as possible because she had taken over caregiving responsibilities for her grandmother, who had just moved into a retirement home. But, with supply chain issues and rising prices, finding a new vehicle proved to be challenging.

Her insurer only paid out $4,500 for a new vehicle, after a $500 deductible. Other 2008 Toyota Matrix’s were selling for $9,000 and up on Auto Trader.

After posting about the experience online, someone was kind enough to reach out and offer to sell a 2009 vehicle for a price close to her settlement so she could get back on the road.

“As a community, keep your eyes open. And, if you see something that looks suspicious, report it. We can all help each other out,” Barbosa said.

“It was such a headache and I don’t wish for anyone to have to go through it.”


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