Shoppers are wary of having gifts stolen from their cars in mall parking lots during the holidays, but thieves may want more than the Xbox in the back seat. They may be looking to steal whole car.

Sidney Keith, neighborhood police officer for the 109, said in an email that auto thefts have increased in the area during the past few months.

“It appears the thieves are joy riding or just trying to get to another location,” he wrote. “Most of the thefts are coming from the Berkeley Apartments and some south of that location.” The Berkeley Apartments, 2001 Park Hill Drive, are just north of the 109.

While local auto thefts have increased, so have the number of recoveries, Keith wrote. And with the cold weather, auto thefts are expected to continue due to people warming up cars and leaving them unattended.

Fort Worth Police Det. Wayne Browning said Honda Accords and Acuras are among the nation’s most stolen vehicles, but Texas is different “mainly, because Texans love their trucks.”

While pickups are more likely to get stolen across the state, at TCU, bike theft is more common. According to TCU police, only one stolen vehicle has been reported at the university this year.

TCU Police Sgt. Kelly Ham said he believes the nearly nonexistent auto theft rate on campus is due to video cameras in parking lots as well as license plate recognition at entrances and exits.

Overall, auto thefts are down in Fort Worth but the city’s auto theft rate, which is based on the number of auto thefts per resident, is greater than the national average.

Thieves made off with nearly 700,000 motor vehicles last year across the nation, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report. Such thefts occurred nationally at a rate of about 221.3 per 100,000 residents. Fort Worth’s average was 314.8 in 2012.

The FBI’s definition of motor vehicles includes cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, scooters and snowmobiles but does not include construction and farm equipment, boats, planes or jet skis.

Fort Worth statistics show that with a population near 789,000 last year, about 2,400 motor vehicle thefts took place. The numbers, which have been slowly declining since 2010, are a freefall from the more than 4,000 vehicles heisted in 2000.

In comparison, Charlotte, North Carolina, whose population was about 837,000 last year, reported 1,856 auto thefts.

Browning said Fort Worth’s bait car program, auto theft prevention programs, LoJacks and auto alarms along with other innovative anti-auto theft devices from dealers and manufacturers are helping to deter auto thieves.

“Since we started the [bait car] program in 2006, we’ve had more than 1,000 arrests,” Browning said. “They [thieves] know that any given vehicle might be a bait car, and that scares them off.”

Passive anti-theft devices are standard on Fords, said Sam Oreggio, who works at Five Star Ford, 6618 NE Loop 820. Anti-theft options such as alarms and shock sensors are also available, Oreggio said. In addition, the dealership offers SkyLINK, a GPS and cellular tracking device.

“The price is dependent upon the dealership,” he said, but SkyLINK costs “about $400 from this dealership.”

Oreggio said auto thieves are more-than-likely looking to chop up a stolen vehicle and convert parts like tires and rims into quick cash.

Police watch websites like Craigslist and eBay for stolen vehicles, Browning said, adding that cars and trucks sold on Craigslist are often hot. If a person buys a stolen vehicle off Craigslist and gets pulled over, police will confiscate it. What seemed like a bargain hunter’s dream ends up being a bad investment, Browning said.

Browning recommends that people not buy a vehicle on Craigslist unless the person selling it is listed as the owner on the title, has a matching ID, and is willing to go the same day for a title transfer.

“A bill of sale means nothing,” he said.

Brian Baker, manager at Northside Recycling said people used to bring cars with a bill of sale in and try to sell them for scrap metal.

“Not anymore. We don’t buy any cars unless you have a title and it’s in your name,” he said. “The whole scrap metal industry, it’s gotten really strict.”

Baker said Fort Worth police have a scrap metal division set up to nab metal-snatching crooks.

[Theft prevention] has come a long way,” he said. “It has cut out a lot of thefts, that’s for sure.”

Browning said about half of all auto thefts happen with the keys left inside. He cautions people against leaving keys inside their car while they dash into a store or leave the car running to warm it up on brisk mornings. Browning said owners have reported their vehicle stolen and then been handed a citation for having left their keys in it.

“It’s illegal to leave the keys in the car,” he said.

In Fort Worth, there are no particular sections of town that are hardest hit by auto thieves, Browning said, but there are certain places that attract them. Places such as malls, motel parking lots and store parking lots attract thieves because of the variety of vehicles to choose from. But as far as spotting an auto thief, Browning said it can’t be done.

“You can’t just look at someone and say ‘that might be a thief,’” he said. “There is no standard look to a car thief.”

 Browning said 12-year-olds, 80-year-olds, and people dressed in business suits wearing neckties steal cars.

“Male, female, you name it,” he said.

Browning said there are six different types of auto thieves.

  1. Joy riders steal a car, go for a ride, and abandon the vehicle when it runs out of gas.
  2. Transportation thieves need to get from point A to point B, and then drop the car somewhere near point B.
  3. Parts thieves can’t afford parts for their car so they steal one like it for parts to fix their own car, or they resell the parts for cash.
  4. Insurance frauds report a car stolen when there was no theft.
  5. Professional auto thieves steal new cars from dealerships and will sometimes ship them out of the country.
  6. Addicts “stealing to support their habit” are the largest group of thieves, Browning said, and people who steal for drugs or alcohol usually serve time in jail rather than a rehabilitation center because they are repeat offenders.

About 350 people from all over the world attended an International Association of Auto Theft Investigators convention held in Fort Worth this summer. Browning, who has a biometric fingerprinting device installed in his vehicle, was among them.

He said about 65 percent of stolen vehicles are recovered through various methods including the old tried and true fingerprinting method. He said if investigators find a heap of cars discarded in a certain area then police start looking for a chop shop nearby.

“Sometimes, we catch them driving the stolen vehicle,” he said. And “sometimes, we have informants.”

Browning said the main ways people can deter auto thefts is by not leaving keys or valuable items inside their car that might entice a thief, by investing in an anti-auto theft device and not buying a car or truck without a clear title.

“If I could get people to do those four things,” he said, “auto theft would drop like a rock.”