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Risk Insight: Tips to Prevent Carjacking

Personal Lines, Property & Casualty

Carjacking is defined as stealing a car by force, very often while the offender is armed with a gun. Carjacking is not just a problem in large cities; it happens in suburbs, small towns, and rural areas.

Rather than stealing parked cars, many violent criminals find it much easier to steal a car while the owner is inside with the keys in the ignition. Many of these cars are stolen and used to commit other violent crimes, or simply because the thief wants to take the vehicle for a ride. No matter the purpose, these crimes are very dangerous for the victim.

Be aware of your surroundings

The best way to help prevent a carjacking is always being aware of your surroundings. In addition:

When getting into your car…

  • Walk with purpose and stay alert.
  • Approach your car with the keys in hand. Look around and inside the car before getting in.
  • Be wary of people near your vehicle asking for directions or money to help with gas, or other possible distractions. They may be working with a partner, who will attempt to take your keys and your vehicle.
  • Trust your instincts; if something makes you feel uneasy, get into the car quickly, lock the doors and drive away.

While on the road…

  • Keep your doors locked and windows rolled up (at least part-way), no matter how short the distance you will be walking or how safe the neighborhood is.
  • Be especially alert when stopped at intersections, gas stations, ATMs, and convenience stores.
  • When you are coming to a stop, leave enough room to maneuver around other cars, especially if you sense trouble and need to get away. You should be able to see the rear tires of the car ahead of you.
  • Drive in the center lane to make it harder for would-be carjackers to approach the car.
  • Avoid driving alone, especially at night.
  • Do not stop to assist a stranger whose car has broken down. Instead, help by driving to the nearest phone and calling police to help.
  • Keep your cell phone in your pocket. If your vehicle is stolen, you will have a way of contacting 911. If your cell phone is left inside the vehicle, you will be stranded without a way to call for help.
  • Be aware that some thieves will “bump” a vehicle from behind and steal a victim’s vehicle when the victim stops to exchange information. Signal to the other vehicle’s driver to follow you to a well-lit public area to exchange information. If you see a fire or police station, stop there and summon aid from inside.

When getting out of your car…

  • Park in well-lit areas, near sidewalks or walkways. Avoid parking near dumpsters, woods, large vans or trucks, or anything else that limits your visibility.
  • Never leave valuables in plain sight; lock your car and take the keys.
  • Even if you are rushed, look around before you exit your vehicle and stay alert to your surroundings.

Understanding carjacking from a criminal’s viewpoint

  • Modern vehicles are often equipped with ignition systems requiring a coded key to start the engine. These vehicles are very difficult or impossible to “hot wire”, and sometimes the only way to steal a vehicle (outside of towing) is to steal the ignition key from the vehicle’s operator.
  • Thieves, often traveling in groups and in a vehicle, will eye a vehicle they want. “Impulse shopping” at its very worst, they will approach a vehicle at a traffic signal, in heavy traffic, or when a vehicle operator is entering or exiting a vehicle and steal the vehicle. Often, these thieves use a weapon to secure control of the situation and take the vehicle.
  • Gas stations and car washes are often the venue for a carjacking. Vehicle operators are distracted while attending to their vehicle, and are easily surprised by criminals.
  • Criminals often watch ATM machines, especially drive-up and drive-through locations, and often at night. In many cases, criminals can rob victims of the cash they withdraw from the ATM as well as steal their vehicle.
  • Shoppers loading packages into a vehicle are often targeted because they are distracted. A thief may escape with both the vehicle and the packages being loaded.

If carjacking happens to you…

  • If the carjacker threatens you with a gun or other weapon, give up your car. Do not argue. Your life is worth more than your car. Get away from the area as quickly as possible.
  • Try to remember what the carjacker looked like: sex, race, age, hair and eye color, special features, clothes. Also remember the description of any vehicles involved – color, make, model, license plate.
  • Report the crime immediately to the police.
  • Then, check that your policy covers car theft and get the claims process started. Notify your insurance professional about the incident as soon as possible—the longer you wait, the harder it will be to remember the details. Note that many insurance companies now use mobile apps, which can help you get the claims filing process started immediately.

Key Takeaways

  • Carjacking can happen anywhere, and is often dangerous for the victim. There are key risk management steps that you can take to lower your risk of becoming a carjacking victim.
  • If carjacking happens to you, first report the crime immediately to the police. Then, check that your policy covers car theft and get the claims process started with your insurance professional as soon as possible.

Reach out to your M3 personal lines account executive for more information about vehicle security and risk management, or to discuss a claim for a stolen vehicle.

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