Security and Safety

Protect Your Belongings on Road Trips

By Christine Perez 6.7.13

You’ve spent all that time preparing for your trip and are ready to hit the road. But before you get behind the wheel, do one last thing: review your plan for protecting your valuables while you travel. Becoming a victim of theft is one sure way to ruin a business trip or vacation.

There are several simple steps you can take to help keep your belongings safe, yet many don’t take the time to do so. A recent study by the National Insurance Crime Bureau found that 40 percent of Americans don’t hide their valuables when they leave them behind in their cars. What’s more, nearly half leave mail in their vehicles, about 25 percent have left a purse or wallet, and about one-third have left bank statements — all of which could lead to identity theft.

Road Trip Safety Tips

To prepare your road safety plan, start by thinking like a bad guy. What kinds of behaviors or situations would attract a thief? The goal is to make stealing from you as difficult as possible.

Here are some tips:

  • Lock your car and roll up the windows. This is obvious and should be an automatic process, yet a surprising number of people leave their vehicles unlocked or, even worse, leave their keys in the car. Many thefts are “crimes of opportunity.”
  • Park in a well-lit, active area. Thieves like to operate in the dark. Park your vehicle near a street light or parking lot security post, or as close to the front door of your destination as possible. Look for areas where there’s plenty of pedestrian traffic.
  • Hide your valuables. This tip is especially true for laptops, cameras, hand-held video games, and digital music players. If someone can walk by your car and see them inside, they’ll be more tempted to break in and steal them. Covering items with a blanket or coat isn’t enough, as thieves can assume something expensive is hidden underneath. Instead, keep these items in the glove box or other compartments. If they’re too large, pack them in the trunk of your car — but do so surreptitiously or, better yet, prior to arriving at your destination. (One caveat: Car trunks can become hot, so be mindful of temperatures if storing your laptop or other electronics.) If you’re staying at a hotel, take your valuables inside.
  • Keep your ID on you at all times. Never leave cash, credit, and debit cards, travel documents, or your identification in your vehicle. Keep these things in your purse, wallet, or money belt, and carry them with you. If you’re heading to an amusement park or nature trail, leave the house with just your keys, ID, cash, and one credit or debit card. Thieves target cars parked in these areas because they know the occupants will be gone for a while and are likely to have left bulky items like purses behind.
  • Activate your alarm system. If your vehicle is equipped with an alarm system, always activate it when you leave your car.

Other Car Scams

The most common type of auto valuables theft is known as the “smash and grab,” where criminals smash the windows, grab what they can get in a few seconds, and scamper away. But it’s also helpful to be aware of other common ploys thieves use, especially targeting tourists. They often prey upon the good intentions and good nature of their victims.

Be on the lookout for these scams:

  • Staged-accident scam. Thieves work in pairs and bump your car or dart in front, and claim that you hit them. While you’re distracted, one of the thieves quickly goes through the items in your car, taking things of value.
  • Flat-tire scam. Again, thieves work in pairs to puncture your tire and follow you as it goes flat. One offers to help, while the other removes your belongings from the car. An alternate version has the thieves pretending to have a flat tire themselves. When you stop to render aid, one distracts you while the other pilfers through your valuables.
  • Directions scam. In this scenario, a thief pretends to be lost and asks for help with directions, often using a large map as a distraction. While you’re attempting to help, an accomplice takes things from your car. They make a getaway before you realize anything is missing.