Never Leave Your Car Without Doing This First, Police Say in New Warning

It could keep your car protected from an increasingly common crime.

Parking can be stressful under the best of circumstances, but it's made even worse when you're in a rush and can't find any spots—or if you've never been that adept at parallel parking. Once you've secured a spot, however, you should be able to breathe easy. And that can't happen if you know your car might be targeted by criminals. Police have issued a new warning about a rise in a specific kind of theft, where perpetrators are looking to snatch one thing in particular from your car—and it's not something you'd ever think to protect. Read on to find out what thieves are now after, and what police say you must do before leaving your car.

READ THIS NEXT: If You See This While You're Driving, Call 911 Immediately, Police Warn.

Cars have always been a target for criminals, but new schemes are on the rise.

parking ticket on car
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If you haven't fallen victim to a scam, consider yourself lucky. Criminals will try to steal from you any way they can, and cars are a common target. On Aug. 1, police in Fairfax City, Virginia, issued a warning about fake parking tickets. According to a tweet from the Fairfax City Police Department (FCPD), the fake tickets are placed on the windshields of unsuspecting drivers—and they're actually pretty convincing. In a photo taken by the FCPD, the fraudulent ticket contains the Fairfax City seal and relevant legal jargon.

But at least the scammers leave your car in place. More troublingly, police across the country have issued warnings about a rise in car thefts, particularly for newer Kia and Hyundai models. The surge has been blamed on a trend circulating on social media, which demonstrates a simple method for stealing these vehicles with a USB cable. Called the "Kia Challenge," the trend began in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and has since spread to several states, including Virginia, Florida, Kentucky, Texas, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Minnesota.

Now, thieves have learned that they can steal one of your car's key safety features instead, and still turn a profit.

Criminals are breaking into cars looking for one thing.

car airbag deployed
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Your car isn't safe without its airbags, which provide cushioning for you and your passengers in the event of a crash. In fact, federal legislation requires "all cars and light trucks" in the U.S. to come equipped with airbags on both sides of the front seats. As such a vital safety feature, they've now become coveted by criminals, the Phillipsburg Police Department in New Jersey warns.

"The police department is investigating several car burglaries involving the theft of driver's side airbags," an Aug. 11 Facebook post from the police department reads. According to police, the thieves break into vehicles, cut open steering wheels, and remove the airbags, specifically in "newer model Honda vehicles."

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Airbags are a hot commodity.

car thief
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There has been an uptick in airbag theft in several states, since lingering shortages tied back to the COVID-19 pandemic have put airbags in high demand, TapInto Phillipsburg reported. As a result of scarcity, these airbags can also be resold for a pretty penny.

Airbags are easy to steal and hide, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). Thieves resell the stolen airbags on the black market or on internet websites. "Unscrupulous collision repair shops" purchase the stolen airbags for between $50 to $200 each—which is cheaper than the $1,000 price tag at a dealership—in order to turn a profit, the NICB states.

"These dishonest operators will then charge the vehicle owner or their insurer the full price for the replacement, thus committing insurance fraud," the NICB states, adding that roughly 50,000 airbags are stolen each year, amounting to $50 million in losses for both vehicle owners and insurance companies.

Make sure your vehicle is secure.

locking car with key
montira areepongthum / Shutterstock

Police departments across the country have issued warnings about airbag theft. Authorities in Arlington, Virginia, investigated airbag theft from Honda Civics in May, CBS-affiliate WUSA9 reported, and more recently, a series of airbag thefts were reported in Fairfax and Loudoun counties outside of Washington, D.C. A police department in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania also reported thefts this month, according to The Morning Call.

Thankfully, there are steps you can take to keep yourself safe, and Phillipsburg police recommend that you make sure your vehicle is "secure" before you leave it parked anywhere. The Montgomery County Maryland Police Departments further recommends parking your car in a well-lit area, and notes that you should never leave your vehicle before making sure your doors are locked, removing valuables, knowing that your car alarm works, and installing a steering wheel locking device.

If you see suspicious activity in your area, police ask that you report it to local authorities.

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