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Personal Finance

'Hot spots' for stolen cars
Survey: car-theft capitals of the United States.
November 30, 2004: 10:36 PM EST

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Car-crazed California had six of the top 10 cities with the highest car theft rates in the country in 2003, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), a non-profit organization that aims to fight insurance fraud and vehicle theft.

The NICB built its list by analyzing FBI crime statistics and applying them to the biggest 336 metropolitan areas in the United States.

The city with the highest car theft rate, Modesto, California, had 6,016 thefts in 2003 -- a 32 percent increase from 2002. That represents 1,346 thefts per 100,000 of population.

Phoenix, No. 2 on the list, had 40,384 thefts. That's a rate of 1,254 thefts per 100,000 of population.

Sun belt cities occupied the first nine positions with, appropriately enough, Detroit (905.02) filling out the top 10.

For sheer numbers, another California city led the charge; Los Angeles had 75,369 thefts last year. Though at a rate of 714 per 100,000, it ranked only 16th in the country..

Car theft has crept upward the past few years after sinking steadily during the 1990s.

In 2001 car theft jumped about five percent over 2000 to an estimated 1,228,391 vehicles. In 2003, 1,260,471 vehicles were reported stolen, about a one percent rise compared with 2002.

Top ten cities for car theft
These cities led the nation in rates of car theft for 2003
City Total car thefts Rate per 100,000 population 
Modesto, CA 6,016 1,345.87 
Phoenix-Mesa, AZ 40,769 1,253.71 
Stockton-Lodi, CA 6,730 1,194.11 
Las Vegas, NV 18,103 1,158.01 
Sacramento, CA 17,054 1,047.42 
Fresno, CA 9,102 986.65 
Oakland, CA 23,199 969.63 
Miami, FL 21,088 935.85 
San Diego, CA 26,091 927.24 
Detroit, MI 40,197 905.02 
 Source:  National Insurance Crime Bureau

NICB President and chief executive officer Robert M. Bryant said, "With over 1.2 million vehicles stolen annually in the United States, the loss to owners and insurance companies is over $8 billion."

NICB's director of public affairs, Frank Scafidi, says there's no simple explanation why car theft has grown again after declining all through the 1990s, but "law enforcement has been pulled in many new directions since 9/11," he says, and property crimes like car theft have a lower priority than ones that result in bodily injury.

Individuals can protect their cars by taking more care. "It's amazing how many thefts still occur from oversights such as leaving the car running when you go into a store," Scafidi says.

Leaving your car unlocked or with the keys in it invites theft. Alarms, steering column collars, and other anti-theft devices aren't foolproof but they may make a thief move on to another car, according to Scafidi.

Scafidi says one of the biggest markets for stolen cars remains chop shops, where thieves carve up cars for their parts. Carowners can help limit those profits by dealing with responsible auto repair shops when they need work done. Unscrupulous repair shops may charge similar prices for parts but buy them for 70 percent to 80 percent less on the black market, driving the stolen car industry.

There was good news in the report for several cities. New York had nearly 3,000 fewer thefts in 2003 than in 2002 and ranked just 167th among the 336 areas surveyed. Chicago also reported fewer thefts, nearly 2,000, and it fell to 63rd place from 58th.  Top of page

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