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In-Car DVD Players Are Growing Targets of Thieves

19 Mar, 2004 By: Holly J. Wagner

While lawmakers struggle to craft laws that discourage watching DVDs while driving (see cover story, VSM, March 14-20), consumers and law enforcement have to wrestle with another growing problem: theft of in-car DVD players.

“Anything new that's put into a car that's expensive, you usually start to see thefts popping up,” said Teri Vlasak, spokeswoman for the National Insurance Crime Bureau in Chicago. While reports have started to trickle in anecdotally, she said, the organization has not yet seen a need to issue an alert.

Since nobody knows exactly how many DVD players are on the road, most information is anecdotal. Insurers are concerned with covering losses, but track auto burglaries in general, not by what is taken.

“What happens is, the majority of insurance companies keep track of thefts, but not by the contents that are taken or missing,” said Emily Daly, spokeswoman for one of the nation's top two auto insurers, Allstate Insurance. “I think that companies are trying to make that shift, but they just aren't there yet.”

The company is seeing an increase in auto DVD thefts, tracking with their popularity, said 21st Century Auto Insurance spokeswoman Julia Mitchell. “The increase is not dramatic, but it is consistent with the increase of players being installed in cars,” she said. At 21st Century, the problem does not affect rates, because there are limits on what is covered in aftermarket applications.

Nonetheless, the crimes are showing up on police blotters from coast to coast. The crime seems to be more common in affluent neighborhoods — not surprising given the cost of buying a car with a factory-installed DVD player or adding an aftermarket model later.

“We're kind of a high-end dealer. The average cost for ours is about $1,800, and we sell several a week,” said Tom Sweere, a sales associate at Beach Auto Sound in Huntington Beach, Calif. “It became a significant part of our business about four years ago.”

Onboard players are available for less than $1,000, but most dealers said $1,200 to $1,500 is the average price.

“I imagine [burglary of in-car DVD players] would go up only because people are getting more DVD players,” said Officer Greg Schirmer of the Long Beach Police Department in California.

“One of our biggest problems as far as thefts are auto burglaries. A lot of these are crimes of opportunity. We tell people not to leave things where they are visible in the car.”

Police in other communities see problems sporadically. In January, the city of Coleyville, Texas, had a rash of onboard DVD burglaries — 15 smash-and-grab thefts in two weeks. Burglars ripped off 12 monitors and other hardware from vehicles in Gurnee, Ill., during a three-week period in November, according to police. The five suspects are accused of hitting SUVs and vans in parking lots.

“Lock your car, turn on the alarm and don't leave any DVDs in plain sight because it tells people you have a DVD player,” Mitchell said.

Authorities advise consumers to mark their in-car players with some type of personal identifying information and keep the serial number in their records to help recover them if they're stolen.

Still, thefts may decrease as prices come down. Walmart.com advertises one aftermarket model for as little as $190. “These electronics prices are coming down,” Sweere said. “I think thieves have a more lucrative scam, like identity theft or Internet crime.”

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