As vehicle thefts surge, Suffolk police detective warns against leaving key fobs...

As vehicle thefts surge, Suffolk police detective warns against leaving key fobs in cars

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The Suffolk County Police Department has observed a recent uptick in stolen vehicles and now urges residents to take precautions.

Detective Richard Marra of SCPD offered a brief history of the crime phenomenon in a phone interview. While vehicle theft cases have been recurrent, the detective noted that the crime is relatively preventable. 

“Ninety percent of the cars that are stolen are probably stolen because [drivers] leave the key fobs in the car,” he said.

Marra said the police department first noticed the trend about three years ago when an organized out-of-state group started targeting luxury models.

“We had a group of guys coming out of New Jersey, mostly from Newark, and they would go to the more affluent neighborhoods,” he said. “They’d come in a van, walk down the street and look for any kind of foreign car.”

Thieves often sought out vehicles with the mirrors folded open. This, Marra said, was an indicator that the vehicle was unlocked. 

If the key fob was left inside, they would easily steal the vehicle. If not, they may rummage through it for hidden valuables.

“Three years ago, it was crazy,” Marra said. “It slowed down a little bit in the last eight months, but we still have a lot of thefts of cars because the key fobs are left in the car.”

The SCPD detective said that the New Jersey bunch often resold their stolen cars on the secondary market. In a highly coordinated manner, they would steal the cars, drive to New Jersey, remove any GPS trackers and then prepare them for international shipment.

“When they had a container ready, they put them on the container, and it was usually going to South Africa,” Marra said.

While the group from New Jersey had targeted luxury models, some vehicle thieves are less interested in the car’s resale value than its utility. 

Marra said some would use the vehicle to temporarily transport drugs or steal catalytic converters, then discard it. While victims of this variety of theft often retrieved their stolen cars, its condition could be irreversibly impaired.

“The ones that are taking just any car — anything that happens to be left with the fob in it — may drive it around for a day or two and then leave it somewhere,” he said. “Sometimes it’s destroyed, sometimes it’s not, but most of the time it’s not in the shape you left it in.”

The spike in vehicle theft follows another auto theft crime that has hit the county, the theft of catalytic converters. [See story, “Catalytic converter theft on the rise in Suffolk County,” TBR News Media website, Feb. 26, 2022.]

Marra indicated that catalytic converter theft has fallen off substantially in recent months due primarily to coordinated arrests conducted with the federal government.

For residents to protect themselves from vehicle theft, he said there is a simple solution — taking their fobs with them as they exit their cars. 

“If people would take their key fobs with them and never leave them in the car, I’d say 90 to 95% of the car thefts would go down,” the detective said. “You just have to keep your keys in your pocket instead of leaving them in the console or the glove compartment.”

He added, “I know it’s nice to just jump in and drive away — but then everybody could jump in and drive away.”