Crime & Courts

Officers warn shoppers to protect IDs, purchases in their cars

None of the vehicles in a Wichita mall parking lot Tuesday morning had flashing lights proclaiming "Come and get it" to thieves.

But some of them might as well have.

More than a half-dozen cars checked within a matter of minutes were unlocked. One of them had a loan application — a gold mine for identity thieves — sitting on the front passenger seat.

"How long would it take to steal that? About this long," Lt. Clark Wiemeyer said, opening and closing the door.

Police officers and officials spent part of the morning at Towne East Square checking vehicles to demonstrate how easily shoppers can become crime victims during the holiday season through indifference or lack of awareness.

"Everyone is just in a hurry, is what it comes down to," Officer Mike Lloyd said. "They think, 'Oh, I'll only be inside for a minute.' But it's never only a minute."

Capt. Darrell Atteberry spotted a military ID left in plain view in a red sedan. After repeatedly finding unlocked cars, he simply shook his head.

One woman left her purse sitting atop a stack of folding chairs in the back of a maroon Chevy Suburban. A new boom box — a coveted target for thieves hungry for items they can resell — was left in plain view in the backseat of a white minivan.

Lloyd said he spotted three forms of ID left inside easy-to-get-into vehicles within a matter of a few minutes.

"That's a good day's work for an identity thief right there," he said.

The holidays are prime pickings for thieves, police say, because more people are out shopping and they tend to leave purchases and other valuables inside vehicles while going back for more.

Hurried and harried, holiday shoppers tend to be more careless. But it doesn't have to be that way, authorities say.

Locking packages and other valuables in the trunk takes only a minute or two. Wallets, checkbooks and purses all need to be locked away or carried inside.

Thieves don't walk around parking lots with wireless remotes that detect lock codes and unlock doors, officials said Tuesday. That's an urban legend.

What happens instead, authorities said, is that shoppers leave doors unlocked or valuables in plain sight for opportunistic thieves to see and snatch after smashing a window.

It can all happen in a matter of moments, Wiemeyer said.

Book bags or backpacks of textbooks can tempt thieves looking for identity information they can manipulate, officials said. Even empty boxes can prove costly if a thief smashes a window to see what may be inside.

But reducing risk during the holiday shopping season can be done, officials said: Several vehicles in the lot Tuesday morning were locked and had nothing that would tempt a thief.