GPS devices, purses, iPods and laptops - whatever the valuable is, chances are greater that it might get stolen if left on the front seat of a car.
Although the recent rash of car break-ins in Howard County might be motivated by a struggling economy, many of the vehicle owners who have fallen victim to thieves this year had left something valuable in plain sight or simply didn't lock their car doors, police say.
Howard County has seen a 40 percent increase in vehicle break-ins so far this year, and police are warning residents not to leave valuable property in their cars.
So far this year, police say they have received more than 2,500 reports of thefts from vehicles. Last year, there were 1,800 during the same period. Stolen items include personal electronics, GPS units, purses, briefcases and cash, police said.
"I think in most of the incidents, people are leaving things of value out in the open," Police Chief William McMahon said last week. "You are making yourself more likely to be a victim.
"We certainly hope people will help us help them."
The department has beefed up plainclothes and uniformed patrols in areas that have been hit frequently, McMahon said. Those include Montgomery Road and portions of Ellicott City, Columbia and North Laurel.
In addition, residents of Montgomery Road have received automated voice-mail messages through the county's Community Notification System to warn them of the thefts, McMahon said.
Vehicle break-in is a crime that tends to ebb and flow, at times depending on outside circumstances, police say. For example, many areas of the country experienced a rash of GPS thefts last winter as the devices became more prevalent. And a recent increase in catalytic converter thefts had led many to wonder whether it stemmed from higher gas prices.
McMahon said residents should be aware of the risks and take steps to avoid being victimized, such as placing valuables in the trunk and locking car doors. Serial numbers for electronics should be recorded, he said, which can lead to stolen items being returned if they are recovered.
Another way to deter thieves is to engrave information on the electronics, which makes them easily identifiable at pawnshops. This also makes the property easier to return to the owners if it is sold.
The surge in the number of thefts might also be due to an increase of crime reports, McMahon said. But he added that with the approaching holiday season, residents should be diligent in keeping their valuables out of the sight of potential thieves. If possible, they should also park in well-lit areas or locked garages.
"Let's make it harder for the criminals," McMahon said in a statement. "If we all are vigilant about protecting our property, our community will be less attractive and less susceptible to thieves."
Police ask that anyone with information about the crimes call 410-313-3200.