This is not a sophisticated crime wave.
Since the 1990s, the number of car thefts reported annually has dropped dramatically. In 1990, it was at an average rate of 657.8 reports per 100,000 population. In 2019, it was 219.9 per 100,000. The reason we've seen a drop of over 50 percent in car thefts is that standard security features on vehicles have become incredibly sophisticated. Starting with car alarms, then immobilizers, and now using chips with rolling codes in key fobs to let the car know it's present. Now, keyless ignitions are widely used, and all that's required is for the key fob to close enough to the steering wheel. It's both a convenient and secure system, yet scumbags are finding it so easy to steal cars again that, according to the New York Times, car thefts have soared over the past couple of years.
Keyfob technology, which involves a chip and rolling codes, makes it impossible for a casual thief to steal a car. However, that security is easy to defeat if people leave their key fobs in the car when they vacate the vehicle. And that's exactly what's happening. According to the New York Times report, a snapshot of New York's crime stats shows that on December 5, 2020, 11 vehicles were stolen while left running, and six more were stolen with the keys or fobs inside. It's not just a New York problem, though, and police in Los Angeles see the same issue while smaller police departments are starting to become overburdened by crimes related to car theft again.
The stolen cars aren't necessarily being stripped for parts; police in Hartford, Connecticut, note that they are recovering up to five cars a day and in the same condition they were stolen in. It appears that they are mainly crimes of opportunity, an opportunity given by people leaving their keys in the car while they do things like run into a store. New York police are so concerned with the spike in car thefts it released a public awareness video featuring a man who's Audi Q5 was stolen with his dog still inside while he slipped into a pet store for some food. He was able to leave his engine running as he left his spare key in the glove box.
"This is a very stupid problem to have," a Hartford Police Department official said publicly, and he's right. The most sophisticated security systems in the world are rendered useless if they aren't used.