13 ways to leave scammers empty-handed this holiday season
You may not realize how much your car is being scoped out by potential thieves. Is your car aging, parked on a high-traffic street, and in good shape? You could be driving one of the most commonly stolen cars in America, from perennial favorite family sedans to iconic trucks and SUVs. In 2020, most newer cars have pretty robust security features as a matter of course. But the average car on the road is a record-high 16 years old, meaning every new car is balanced by at least one car that’s a great deal older. These older cars often have long track records of reliability and low-cost operation. But they also could be a song and dance to break into with a simple Slim Jim.
But why is it worth it for thieves to steal these much older cars of lower value? Parts. Car owners with vehicles that are out of warranty aren't going to new car dealerships for repairs; they go to repair shops or search online for parts. That drives interest in components stripped from older cars, bought by shops looking to cut corners, or sold online to unwitting consumers who think they're buying pieces from wrecked—not stolen—vehicles.
Because of this, theft is a major concern. Which cars are thieves looking for most, and why are they drawn to certain cars? Coverage.com used 2018 data (released on Nov. 19, 2019) from the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s Hot Wheels report to compile the top 10 car models that are most frequently stolen in America. The cars are ranked by the number of total car model thefts as reported to the National Crime Information Center every year. Each slide also contains information on states where this model has been stolen the most, according to NICB. For brevity, the top four car models only include states that list the car as being the #1 most stolen in the state, and the other six car models include states that list the car as being in their top three most stolen.
To protect your vehicles from theft, there are common-sense rules worth following. Keep the doors locked, don't store valuables in the vehicle, park in a well-lit or heavily trafficked area, and incorporate a tracking/recovery system and/or theft-prevention product (the more visible or loud, the better).
Keep reading to see which cars are the most stolen in the United States.
VanderWolf Images // Shutterstock
- Total car model thefts: 10,094
- Year model was stolen the most: 2001
- States where car was stolen the most: Minnesota (#3 in state)
The Honda CR-V is a family-friendly four-door SUV that comes in both front wheel and all wheel drive—perhaps explaining its popularity in snowy Minnesota, as well as many models coming with anti-theft systems. Though the model is decades old, its styling has stayed pretty timeless, and parts for the aging generations are in high demand at this point.
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- Total car model thefts: 11,164
- Year model was stolen the most: 2018
- States where car was stolen the most: Alaska (#3 in state), Arkansas (#3 in state), Maine (#2 in state)
It’s not surprising that the GMC pickup is one of the most popular thefts in Alaska, Montana, and North Dakota—rugged states where many people work outside and haul big loads. GMC usually trails in pickup truck sales behind the other big brands, but red states are more likely to support a traditional American car brand. Many recent models come with anti-theft alarm systems.
- Total car model thefts: 11,292
- Year model was stolen the most: 2001
- States where car was stolen the most: Missouri (#3 in state), Montana (#3 in state), Nebraska (#3 in state), North Dakota (#3 in state), Oklahoma (#3 in state), Texas (#3 in state), Wyoming (#3 in state)
Dodge sold pickups under its Ram brand until Ram went solo in 2010. That includes the classic Ram truck as well as the Dakota made until the mid 2000s. Discontinued cars and generations of vehicles can be extremely popular for thieves, because they represent a limited supply of engine parts as well as clean body panels.
otomobil // Shutterstock
- Total car model thefts: 12,137
- Year model was stolen the most: 2018
- States where car was stolen the most: Washington D.C. (#3 in state)
The compact Corolla is an entry-level Toyota, with great gas mileage along with cross-parts compatibility with some other Toyotas. The most common year model to steal is the 2018, which is the first year of the latest generation—a sweet spot to steal. Because of the Corolla''s popularity to thieves, vehicle owners are wise to always use any alarm system that came with the vehicle, have the VIN number etched onto the windshield and other parts of the car to prevent parts parsing, and employ a GPS tracking system for the vehicle.
Ritu Manoj Jethani // Shutterstock
- Total car model thefts: 13,355
- Year model was stolen the most: 2015
- States where car was stolen the most: Connecticut (#3 in state), Delaware (#3 in state), Florida (#2 in state), Louisiana (#3 in state), Mississippi (#3 in state), New York (#3 in state), North Carolina (#3 in state), Pennsylvania (#3 in state), Tennessee (#3 in state)
The 2015 Nissan Altima is in a sweet spot, just before a 2016 facelift common to aging generations. The 2018 and after, latest-generation Altima also has better, more up-to-date anti-theft technology.
OvuOng // Shutterstock
- Total car model thefts: 15,656
- Year model was stolen the most: 2007
- States where car was stolen the most: Florida (#3 in state), Kentucky (#3 in state), Maryland (#2 in state), Massachusetts (#3 in state), New York (#2 in state), Rhode Island (#2 in state), Virginia (#3 in state), Washington D.C. (#2 in state)
The Toyota Camry is a very popular, mid-level family car whose parts can be expensive for owners—making it tantalizing to steal. The 2007 model year is in the Goldilocks zone between older models and newer ones that are harder to steal.
bankerwin // Shutterstock
1 in state), Pennsylvania (#1 in state), Rhode Island (#1 in state)
The Honda Accord is toward the higher end of Honda’s line, but the Accord still shares parts across several other Hondas, making it a high-value steal. With a 1997 model, a thief would just have to Slim-Jim in, no alarm-thwarting required.
Kevin Tichenor // Shutterstock
- Total car model thefts: 32,583
- Year model was stolen the most: 2004
- States where car was stolen the most: Alabama (#1 in state), Alaska (#1 in state), Arizona (#1 in state), Arkansas (#1 in state), Idaho (#1 in state), Iowa (#1 in state), Maine (#1 in state), Montana (#1 in state), Nebraska (#1 in state), North Dakota (#1 in state), Oklahoma (#1 in state), South Dakota (#1 in state), Tennessee (#1 in state), Vermont (#1 in state)
Pickup trucks of all kinds are always in demand because they’re used by so many different kinds of workers. And in the United States, while foreign-made SUVs and cars are often more popular than American-made models, pickup trucks are still mostly an American-made phenomenon. (Toyota pickup trucks, especially vintage ones, are also beloved here.)
Kevin Burnell // Shutterstock
- Total car model thefts: 33,220
- Year model was stolen the most: 2000
- States where car was stolen the most: California (#1 in state), Minnesota (#1 in state), Nevada (#1 in state), Oregon (#1 in state), Utah (#1 in state), Washington (#1 in state)
The Honda Civic has long been the most popular model to steal, because it’s such a common car and also shares parts across Honda models. The most commonly stolen year, 2000, predates many anti-theft technologies.
Jake Steele // Shutterstock
- Total car model thefts: 38,938
- Year model was stolen the most: 2006
- States where car was stolen the most: Colorado (#1 in state), Florida (#1 in state), Georgia (#1 in state), Hawaii (#1 in state), Indiana (#1 in state), Kansas (#1 in state), Kentucky (#1 in state), Louisiana (#1 in state), Michigan (#1 in state), Mississippi (#1 in state), Missouri (#1 in state), New Hampshire (#1 in state), New Mexico (#1 in state), Ohio (#1 in state), South Carolina (#1 in state), Texas (#1 in state), Virginia (#1 in state), West Virginia (#1 in state), Wyoming (#1 in state)
If you’re surprised to see Ford pickup trucks so high on this list, keep in mind they’ve been the bestselling U.S. vehicle for 43 years as of 2020. A 2006 is right on the cusp of coming with more standard anti-theft technology, and trucks are extremely useful to have—especially if your job is taking other people’s stuff in a hurry.
We’re primed to get suckered this holiday season. Tight budgets, wishful thinking that we can get a screaming deal if we hurry, and plain old impulsive spending are a dangerous mix. Scammers know this.
One example: Clicking an online ad, maybe for an ornament featuring a Santa with twinkling eyes and a smile hidden under a cloth mask, may put you at risk for identity theft — or maybe just for a bad deal.
Kathy Stokes, AARP’s director of fraud prevention programs, says she once bought “the funniest T-shirt from a Facebook ad. It never came.” That was before Stokes began working in fraud prevention.
So how do we prepare for battle? Three ways: Protect our mobile devices, recognize and avoid risks, and guard against identity theft.
Make your mobile device safer
Your device is only as safe as you make it. Avoiding free Wifi at coffee shops and other public places is a good first step, but also:
1. Secure devices with a difficult-to-guess password and/or biometrics. If you can use a fingerprint or facial recognition to sign in, that’s best. If two-factor authentication is available, use it.
2. Heed notifications to update your software. Many times, updates improve security. This is true whether it’s your operating system, virus protection or an app.
3. Use a virtual private network. A VPN gives you an encrypted “tunnel” when you use public Wi-Fi. Protecting a device isn’t expensive — you can protect several devices for less than $10 a month. There are also free VPNs offered online. But Adam Levin, the author of “Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves,” recommends sticking with the ones that charge, because of the risk that free ones will collect your data. Failing that, he recommends using your phone as a hotspot or using your provider’s closed cellular network.
Be careful when shopping online
Stokes and Levin agree that using a credit card is essential when shopping online. A debit card withdraws your money immediately. But you can dispute a credit card charge and not have to pay while it’s being investigated.
Slow down and be careful. Stokes says duplicated or spoofed websites can take advantage “when you get a text or you get an email and you get excited because it’s this thing you really wanted to buy and you can get it really cheap — and you just click and go and you don’t look for any red flags.”
4. Use a virtual wallet if the site allows it. Card numbers are encrypted, meaning your actual card number is not shared when you make a purchase.
5. Go to the source. Don’t click on ads on social media or even in texts or emails. Some are scams. If the retailer is new to you, Stokes recommends checking carefully for contact information and for return and refund policies.
6. Be cautious. When going to a site, type the URL carefully, then double-check, advises Levin. “Typo-squatters” have sites that are almost indistinguishable from the real ones.
7. Don’t open attachments. The exception is if you are expecting an attachment from someone you know. Spoofing is sophisticated; the sender may not be who you think it is.
8. Use retailer apps. Your payment information is better protected that way. If you regularly buy from a particular retailer — or will this holiday season — go ahead and download the app, Stokes advises.
9. Use strong passwords. Using a password manager app can set complex passwords and remember them for you. If a retailer website offers to store your payment information, decline. The less information you rely on others to protect, the better.
Guard against identity theft
Holidays are big for identity thieves because criminals “are geniuses when it comes to taking a situation and radically turning it to their benefit,” says Levin, who is also the founder of CyberScout, a company that offers identity protection and fraud resolution services.
Add to that the loneliness of the pandemic. “People are desperate to get a phone call from anyone,” Levin says, and may be more willing to talk.
Protect yourself from identity theft with these tips:
10. Don’t give your card number if you get a call or email to “confirm a purchase.” Real credit card issuers do not need it. If you think a retailer might be trying to contact you, initiate the call or send the email using contact information that you look up yourself.
11. Don’t respond to an email “double-checking your address” for a package delivery. That may be a scam, Levin says.
12. Sign up for text alerts when your credit card is used. Levin advises setting the purchase amount very low; identity thieves may test a stolen card number with small purchases.
13. Check to see if you have free or discounted ID theft insurance available. You can’t entirely eliminate your risk, and it’s easier to recover from identity theft with help. An organization you belong to, your employer or your insurer may offer free or deeply discounted protection. Failing that, you can consider buying some.