When traveling in National Parks visitors enjoy a sense of serenity and safety. Unfortunately there are predators among us who take advantage of visitors knowing that they are traveling and carrying cash, travelers’ checks, and credit cards. Criminals have made a living breaking into vehicles and stealing these and other easily disposable items for cash.
Some of the objects that are attractive to thieves are women’s purses, small backpacks, GPS units, IPods, and cameras. If any of these items are visible from the exterior of the vehicle, criminals could target you as their prey.
Many of these criminal are highly experienced having broken into cars for many years. One such person who was arrested on the Blue Ridge Parkway in 2002 had been supporting himself committing these crimes since the late 1940s. Another had been arrested numerous times over a period of thirty years and when caught was teaching a young accomplice his skills. Many of these criminals can get into and out of your vehicle so quickly and efficiently that victims do not realize they have had anything stolen until they are many miles down the road.
In investigations I am familiar with the criminals will be in a trail head or visitor center parking area watching people get out of their vehicles. They are looking for those women who take their purse and put it under the front seat, people who hide a key somewhere on their car, and people who leave their car unlocked because they are just running in to grab a map or use a restroom. They are also looking for hikers to be away for some time and may follow them down a trail to be sure they are gone from the area. We once had surveillance film of a guy with a hiking stick and camera around his neck who spent several hours at a trail head before he picked a vehicle to break into.
These thieves are like predators in the wild. They choose victims of easy opportunity. Some simple steps can make your vehicle look less attractive for them to exert their efforts. Tips to prevent becoming a victim:
• When hiking or leaving your vehicle for any time, take your cash and credit cards with you.
• Do not leave extra keys anywhere around your vehicle. I have seen many hikers leave a key on a tire or in a gas cap. Thieves check these areas.
• Women should either take their purse with them or lock it in a trunk or other area of the vehicle out of view before you arrive at the point where you will leave the car for an extended period.
• Take GPS units and IPods with you in your pocket or pack.
• Never leave any items of value visible from the outside of your vehicle.
• The first places thieves check for valuables are the glove box and under the passenger seat. Do not trust these for security.
• Observe what other vehicles and persons are around your vehicle when you park. Make a note of anyone that looks suspicious or just seems to be hanging around. Being aware of your surroundings wherever you are is basic personal safety.
These same criminals also target vehicles at restaurants, shopping malls, and events. Taking these simple steps can help protect your property every day.