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It's becomingly increasingly common for thieves to targ... It's becomingly increasingly common for thieves to target the components of a vehicle rather than the vehicle itself (moohaha, Flickr).

Len Cutter woke one morning earlier this year to find his late-model Honda Civic had some reconstructive work done. The rear window was laying, broken, across the rear seats, although nothing inside the car was taken. As it turns out, the thieves were after his roof rack.

"They're going to break into my car and steal a roof rack?" he said. "Gimme a break."

Cutter, of Long Beach, California, fell victim to a common trend in auto thievery: components are now more attractive than the car itself.

Vehicles are getting harder to steal outright, especially given massive advances in anti-theft technology (current hi-tech keys won't even allow you to turn the engine over unless the right microchip is present, moving hotwiring into the realm of cultural artifact). As a result, car thieves are stealing components such as GPS devices, DVD systems, rims and tires and, indeed, roof racks, rather than the whole vehicle. Yet, as cars become more futuristic, some old trends are returning. Here are the top trends in auto knavery that you need to keep in mind:

1. Odometer Fraud

Amid so many technological advances, the full digitization of the dashboard has had an effect on odometers. Odometer rollbacks are "back in a big way," said Christopher Basso of Carfax. "There is widespread use of digital odometers. People are getting software off the internet rather than cracking open the dash and hand-cranking back the odometer. It's harder to detect as there are no physical signs the vehicle has been tampered with."

Odometer rollbacks increased 57 percent from 2004-2008 (the last year for which data is available), with more than 450,000 cases reported annually. Over the last five years there's been a nearly 60 percent increase in the number of vehicles reported with odometer rollbacks, Basso says. The number of unreported cases -- where a consumer is unaware there is a problem -- is potentially much higher.
"It is a big and growing problem that continues to plague used-car buyers," said Basso.

But Frank Scafidi, of the National Insurance Crime Bureau, says rolling back odometers "is not as easy as it used to be."

"It happens here or there but it is not the predominant cause of auto fraud. Just like making moonshine, you're still going to find people somewhere doing it because they know how to do it. It's just now most people prefer to get their alcohol at a liquor store."

2. Car Cloning

Scafidi says one of the newest auto frauds is "car cloning." Cloning occurs when multiple (usually higher-end) cars of the same model are stolen and registered with a VIN number from a legitimate vehicle.

"The thieves go get a VIN number from a showroom floor and reproduce it three or four times and attach it to the stolen vehicles and then ship them to four or five states," said Scafidi. "The multiple VIN numbers for us are the biggest red flags out there, and we go get 'em."

The FBI says that car-cloning rings -- often established for decades -- operate in most major cities nationwide. While there is no way to calculate true rates of car cloning, the FBI says it constitutes a "significant percentage" of  vehicle thefts, the value of which totaled $6.4 billion in 2008. The agency recommends always buying your car from a reputable dealership and checking your car's VIN number with your state's licensing agency before you buy.

Common warning signs that you may have bought a cloned car include receiving unpaid traffic tickets you haven't sustained; a model being sold for much less than buyer's guides indicate it should be; scratches or evidence of tampering on the car's VIN number on the door frame or engine block; or a missing vehicle history report.

Terri Miller, director of Michigan's Halt Auto Theft program,  says: "We're seeing a lot of cloning. They'll go to a scapyard and buy a clean title and they can then use that number on a vehicle of the same make and model." 
3. Component theft and resale

With car stereos -- traditionally the item most stolen from cars --  getting harder to pilfer as a result of electronic security measures, thieves are getting more inventive.

Nationally, more than 75,000 airbags are stolen every year, according to the FBI. Thefts of GPS and DVD systems are increasing alongside the popularity of the devices among aftermarket buyers. Thefts of xenon headlights are also a growing problem. The advantage (or disadvantage) of component theft: The goods often are difficult to track and usually there's a fairly constant demand for them.

Miller says component theft is "the biggest thing. As cars are getting harder to steal, they have to steal parts of  them. We're seeing easily fenced items such as tires, rims and GPS units getting stolen."

She says many items end up being sold online or on the street. In many cases buyers may think they're buying a legitimate product rather than a stolen part. She says that criminal enterprises, like legitimate businesses, mainly work on the basis of supply and demand.

"Occasionally, when, for example, Ford Taurus airbags are on back order, we'll see an increase in thefts."

4. Carjackings

You may think that carjackings had gone the way of spinning rims, but rates are holding steady in Southern California and increasing in Michigan. And there are pockets of America urban areas where the trend never really died down.

Officer Canales of the Los Angeles Police Department's Rampart Division says carjacking is still "pretty common."

"We get a few every now and then, usually a gun or knife is involved. It can be anything from high-value to low-value [cars] but we see more Hondas -- Accords and Civics -- and Toyotas."

Carjackings occur most frequently in urban areas and account for about three percent of all thefts, the Insurance Information Institute reports.

"A co-worker of my husband last week was carjacked outside  a pizza parlor," Miller said. "He pointed a gun and said, 'You know what I want,' and drove off in his brand-new Mustang.

"Most carjackings involve a weapon so we always advise motorists to hand over their keys before they become a statistic," Miller says. 

Where You Live Is As Important As What You Drive

A motor vehicle is stolen in the United States every 33 seconds, according to the FBI. In 2008, most vehicles -- or 37.8 percent, were stolen in the South, followed by the West at 33.9 percent, the Midwest at 18.3 percent and the Northeast at 10 percent. But thefts are decreasing by about 12 percent year on year for the last five years.

"Thefts follow technology," said Scafidi. "Smart keys or digital security devices are playing a big part in the reduction."

Here are the latest car theft statistics from broken down by city and model.

Rank (by density)/ Metropolitan / Vehicles Stolen

1. Laredo, TX 1,792
2. Modesto, CA  3,712
3. Bakersfield, CA  5,530
4. Stockton, CA  4,479
5. Fresno, CA5,875
6. Yakima, WA1,525
7. San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA 26,374
8. Visalia-Porterville, CA 2,440
9. Las Vegas-Paradise, NV 10,706
10. Albuquerque, NM 4,815
Source: Auto thefts by cities 2009; National Insurance Crime Bureau

Rank / Year / Make / Model

1. 1994 Honda Accord
2. 1995 Honda Civic
3. 1989 Toyota Camry
4. 1997 Ford F-150 Pickup
5. 2004 Dodge Ram Pickup
6. 2000 Dodge Caravan
7. 1996 Jeep Cherokee/Grand Cherokee
8. 1994 Acura Integra
9. 1999 Ford Taurus
10. 2002 Ford Explorer
Source: Auto theft by model 2008; National Insurance Crime Bureau.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Months Ago
      Just a commet I watch your show all the time and I now john from golf course my beef is your advertise ment for the news show mentions john & ginger but fails to mention your co host ! must be a imbarance to her still love your news reporting enger
      • 5 Months Ago
      When you write "VIN number," you're actually writing "Vehicle Identification Number number." It's just VIN. Nothing more.
        • 5 Months Ago
        uhhh ok doc i will from now on write VIN AND NOTHING MORE.........ARE YOU HAPPY DOC....SEE ANY OTHER NIT PICK ASS **** WE SHOULD CORRECT?????
      • 5 Months Ago
      i hate to say it but old snipe is right but unfortunatly these politicaly correct idiots that have taken over our country dont wont you to fight back or carry a weapon my god these thieves murrderers rapist child molesters & terrorist have rights dare we hurt one of these darling pepole these pepole in dc have 3 to 12 pepole around them with yes with guns to protect them and there teling me i shoulnt have a gun PLEASE spend your time &my money taking guns away from crooks instead of law abiding AMERICANS i to am a proud member of NRA maby if they werent so busy tying to take our guns & suport the rights of crookes & illegals they might have time to balance the budget and run our country & not every body elses country this does not apply to all pepole in dc you w ho are fighting for americans i salute you most of us know the ones i am refering to & this nov. they need to go im not sugesting we shoot them just vote em out before its to late its up to you pepole of america your move
      • 5 Months Ago
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      jeanie w
      • 5 Months Ago
      I love my GPS system. ******* an after market one that sits on my dash and I remove it and put it in the trunk of my car when I leave. Plus that..I know where I live so when I push the "TAKE ME HOME" button, I put in the address of a vacant lot about 5 miles from where I live. Neener neener crooks..you can't find me!!!! LOL..and as for my registration in my car...no no, I realize its the law to leave it there but they can go to hell about that..I leave it at home. I was once stopped for speeding (blush) and I told the cop I had cleaned out my glove box and must have left it at home. All I had to do was take it to the DMV the next day and the "fix-it ticket" went away!. There ARE still ways to confound crooks. You just have to be a tad smarter..which really isn't hard to be. They are usually a bunch of dumbass punks anyhow.
      • 5 Months Ago
      Prosecutors'offices don't even bother with stolen car cases. Too costly to work out to court and no money is made for the office from it. So what is going to happen with a petty theft such as a gasbag system worth a few thousands? There is a good livin' at this peculiar trade and you git more respectable faster than the local drug dealer gets busted.
      • 5 Months Ago
      I'll be more than happy to come out from "behind my screen" and shove my foot up your arse!
      • 5 Months Ago
      But yes exnbcnco...I do reside in Las Vegas and our problems here are the heavily armed and insane Mexican gangs. If you lived here I am sure you were aware of their presence. I have 4 daughters (young) and I feel that we have to reside behind two guarded gates and we still have vehicles burglarized. Had my Suburban nearly dismantled in broad daylight in a very well know large casino parking lot. They were captured trying to leave the parking lot with their haul...guess what ? NO HABLA INGLES. Go figure
      • 5 Months Ago
      exnbcnco: I always carry my pistol with me, so I pitty the fool who attempts to carjack me... And yes I will use it to kill on the spot without question! ---------------------------- you sound like Mr.T and you sound like a fool too. think ahead.. as someone else said.. then your next 8-25 yrs will be ruined son. dumbass
      • 5 Months Ago
      knew when to get out....omg...we have a real life gangster turned family man here....dude save it...you not from the streets with a name like Vegaswhitey period
      • 5 Months Ago
      Education is power papirazzi904. Go get some
      • 5 Months Ago
      My guess is that papirazzi904 made it to 6th grade and "gave up on the man"
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