Anne Arundel County police are trying to track down victims of a newly popular form of automobile theft after finding 33 stolen navigational units in local pawnshops.
Police have issued a warrant in 10 cases but declined yesterday to identify the suspect because the person has not been arrested. They are seeking additional crime victims who can provide descriptions of their stolen devices, particularly the serial number.
Global positioning system units are a growing target for thieves because drivers often leave them perched on dashboards. They cost $200 to $1,000, and many are resold quickly and cheaply, usually for about $150, police say.
"Most folks leave them in vehicles in plain view, and it's a quick grab for a criminal looking for that opportunistic crime to commit," said Cpl. Mark Shawkey, a county police spokesman.
Between June 15 and July 31, police received a rash of reports of navigational units being swiped from vehicles. Shawkey said there was no pattern to the crimes, which occurred in residential and commercial areas, mostly in North County.
Authorities nationwide have noted increases in thefts of GPS units and satellite radios, similarly portable devices. Police say it is not enough to stash the units in a glove box; sometimes just seeing the cradle or suction cups used to hold them in place can be a tip-off to thieves that a unit is in the car.
Shawkey said the thieves typically fit the profile of someone in need of fast cash, and a pawnshop is one of the quickest ways to get a few dollars. Pawnshops also require sellers to give personal information, however, which they share with police in cases of suspected theft.
"The pawnshops here in the county are very good about requiring identification, and it's fairly easy for us to trace [the stolen items] back," Shawkey said.
A man in New York found out the hard way that stolen items can also be tracked to eBay, according to news reports. The man was charged this year with possession of stolen property after someone shopping on eBay for a GPS device found the one that had been taken from his car 10 days earlier. The victim had a special power cord for his device, which made it easy to recognize, and he had retained the serial number, according to reports.
In some cases, the devices themselves can be tracked. In Ohio, burglars broke into a school this year and stole what they thought were cameras but turned out to be GPS devices, according to news reports. Authorities tapped into the devices and tracked the suspects to a home, where the devices were beeping.
County police ask victims of GPS unit thefts to call Detective Shawn Payne of the Northern District at 410-222-6137.