Car thefts on the rise, and one very bad habit could cost you your ride

Katherine Scott Image
Thursday, February 25, 2016
VIDEO: Police offer advice on preventing auto theft
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There is a crackdown on auto theft in and around Philadelphia, and police want your help.

JUNIATA PARK (WPVI) -- There is a crackdown on auto theft in and around Philadelphia, and police want your help. They say drivers can prevent their vehicle from being stolen by stopping one very bad habit.

We obtained surveillance video from August that shows how quickly it can happen. A woman can be seen on her cell phone outside the Sunoco station located at Cottman and Torresdale. She sees a running car, and in under a minute while the owner is at the ATM, she gets behind the wheel and she's gone.

Steven Wheeler is with The Pennsylvania Auto Theft Prevention Authority, and explains, "With unlocked cars being stolen, about 50 percent of the cars across the state have keys left in them."

They call them puffers - cars that are left unlocked, unattended, with the motor running. And they could end up totally stripped for parts.

Wheeler says, "When you leave your car puffing you've defeated all of the technology that's built into that car to prevent it from being stolen. You've rolled out the red carpet for a thief to say, 'Hey look! Let's take that one.'"

There's a statewide campaign organized by The Pennsylvania Auto Theft Prevention Authority to raise awareness about the ease of stealing puffers. More than 6,600 vehicles in the Philadelphia area were stolen last year. While in general, auto theft is down in the city, the 22nd District saw a recent uptick.

Philadelphia Police Sgt. Dan Buckley says, "Right after the first of the year we did see a cold snap, and in the period from January 1 to approximately February 14, in the north-central section of Philadelphia, specifically the 22nd District, we saw a 46 percent increase."

Auto theft has a ripple effect. Stolen Cars can used other violent crimes, and if you leave bills or registration in car you could open yourself up to identity thieves.

AAA is urging motorists to ask their insurance agents about discounts for anti-theft devices.

Jana Tidwell from AAA says, "A puffing car is a target for crime. Always think safety first."