Crimes against Motorists

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared as NMA Weekly E-Newsletter #631, emailed in February 2021. If you would like to receive the weekly newsletter, register today at the NMA! 

Motorists have always been a target for criminals, but since the pandemic began, it seems the nefarious activity has increased dramatically. Some are violent, most involve property loss, and all turn victims’ lives upside down.

For example, cities large and small have reported an increase in carjackings. The Associated Press has reported cases are on the rise in Kansas City, Louisville, Milwaukee, Nashville, New Orleans, Oakland, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Wichita, and even in Wentzville, Missouri (population 39,000).

In Minneapolis, carjackings were up 537 percent in November 2020, with 125 incidents.

By the end of 2020, Chicago had a total of 1,362 carjackings, which was a 105 percent increase from 2019. That’s a daily average of nearly four, with the South and Westside neighborhoods having the worst rates.

So, what is a carjacking? Generally, they happen in larger cities, with primary targets being older drivers and women. Rideshare drivers are also victimized in some cities. Criminals typically approach people near or in their cars and are preoccupied with looking at their phones, putting groceries in the car, or taking out a child from a car seat. A common ruse is to approach while asking for directions, and then the carjacker takes swift and forceful action. The Car Coach recently outlined what you can do to protect yourself against carjackers.

Police say many factors have contributed to the increase in carjackings. Mask wearing is common now. The sight of a masked person is not as alarming, so it becomes much easier for perpetrators to gain close approach before subduing the driver and commandeering the vehicle without showing their faces. Police officials also state it doesn’t help that young people are currently not attending school and have a lot of time on their hands. Minneapolis Police Commander Charlie Adams told ABC News that 80 percent of carjackings and robberies are done by nine to seventeen-year-old juveniles.

Police around the country ask motorists and passengers to be vigilant and situationally aware, advise them not to get distracted when entering or exiting vehicles or at intersections. If someone has a knife or gun, don’t be a hero—your life is worth more than property.

Loyola University Criminology Professor Art Lurigo said telecommuting for work had decreased home burglary by nine percent in the past year. Due to closed shops, business theft has gone down 20 percent. Lurigo said that carjacking for criminals is far more predictable than a typical armed robbery, adding,” In a carjacking, you know exactly what you’re stealing… it’s a profitable crime, with mostly low risk.”

Unfortunately, so is vehicle theft, which went up 9.2 percent in 2020 over 2019 rates, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. In 2020, 878,080 vehicles were stolen, which is the highest number in a decade. NICB President David Glawe said in a statement, “Thieves exploit opportunities and may look for vehicles parked in the same location or citizens not taking proper measures to secure their vehicles.”

To prevent car thefts, the NICB urges owners to practice sense by doing the following:

  • Lock your vehicle every time you park
  • Park in well-lit areas
  • Do not leave an extra key with a fob inside the car—thieves have a way to use the technology to open the door.
  • Consider purchasing an aftermarket alarm system
  • Install a kill switch or starter disabler
  • Install a GPS tracking device.

Catalytic converters are also now a target for thieves. In St. Louis, converter thefts were eight times higher in 2020 than in other years. Lexington, SC, and Wichita, KS reported triple thefts last year. In general, numbers of this kind of theft are up across the board. Criminals target this vehicle part because it has been built with precious metals that have gone up in price—particularly palladium and rhodium. Vehicle owners are stuck with a massive repair bill when a converter is stolen while the thief has a big payday. The Toyota Prius and other hybrid or plug-in hybrid vehicles are especially attractive to thieves.

Accident scams are another crime against motorists. Check out NMA Newsletter #621 for more information. So are predatory towing scams. NMA Newsletter #611 provides details on how not to be a victim of these criminal activities.

Other scams abound but have not necessarily increased since the pandemic. A popular one is an email or text that claims you ran a red light and must immediately pay a fine. Remember, if a city or county has an automated camera program, it is required by statute to mail you an automated ticket.

Criminals use these deceptions to phish for identity or financial information to exploit. Identity theft is not a violent crime but certainly makes it difficult for victims to recover their finances and other identity issues.

This scam recently resurfaced in Yakima County, Washington State. Officials warned residents that if they receive an email stating they were caught on video driving through a red light, don’t respond. There are no red-light cameras in the Yakima Valley.

radio announcer in the Jersey Shore recently received that type of email and warned his listeners not to click on links in suspicious emails and, even better, don’t open the communication, to begin with. The best thing to do is delete it.

If you have been a victim of a recent motorist scam, consider sharing your story by contacting us at so that we can warn others. Your anonymity will be protected.

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