HOUSTON - A Houston area family was hit by the sting of a car break-in and home break-in on the same day.
That family, who asked not to be identified, quickly learned the thieves who broke into their car did so only to get their home address off personal papers kept in the glove compartment.
"We didn't leave anything out in the open. I think they saw a family and knew they had time," said the victim.
"Did you think the crooks were actually breaking into your car so they could break into your home?" asked Local 2 Investigator Robert Arnold.
"No, no, no," said the victim. "We didn't even think of that."
This family said they parked their car on the street near the Children's Museum of Houston. When the family came out, they found the passenger side window smashed. The family thought the only things they lost were a GPS and another electronic device stored in the glove compartment. However, by the time the family made it home an hour after the car break-in, they found their back windows had been smashed.
"They got all the jewelry we had at home, which is worth about $5,000, and they got the laptop, which has all our personal stuff," said the victim. "They saw a family going into the museum, so they knew they had time to get to our house."
What troubles the family even more is they thought they parked their car in a safe place.
"They were people everywhere on the streets, other cars, people going into their homes and we didn't leave anything out in the open," said the victim.
"It doesn't matter where you're at, what time of the day it is, it's a possibility that this could be happening," said Paul Grant with Theft Replacement Specialist.
Grant's company specializes in repairing damage from theft and safe guarding vehicles from crooks.
Grant said a common misconception is people think crooks are deterred by crowded parking lots and streets. To prove this point, Grant set up two car "break-ins" in two busy, Houston area parking lots. Local 2 placed hidden cameras inside a pickup truck and a sedan, both owned by Grant's company. The truck was parked in a lot at Sharpstown Mall with plenty of people walking around and a woman was standing directly across from Grant's truck.
Our hidden cameras showed Grant getting out of another vehicle, walking up to the pickup truck and using a screwdriver to both break the pickup truck's door lock and get the engine started. Grant then noisily sped away, but no one in the parking seemed to notice a truck had just been "stolen."
The entire "crime" took 56 seconds.
Grant then parked the sedan in a very crowded Galleria area parking lot. Again, shoppers were carrying packages through the lot and another woman was sitting in her directly across from Grant's sedan. Grant hopped out of a "getaway" vehicle, walked over the to the sedan, smashed the window with a metal punch tool and stole the car's radio before hopping back into a "getaway" car and driving off.
This "crime" took 1 minute and 8 seconds. This time, however, people in the parking lot did notice Grant breaking into the car.
"They looked at me, acknowledged that I was there, I just kept going," said Grant. "The people that were walking by, looked directly at them, I was actually looking at them whenever I punched the hole into the door glass. People don't want to get involved in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It's just a matter of being afraid or the fear of saying something while we're doing it."
The shoppers who spotted Grant did not want to speak on camera but said the "crime" happened so fast they weren't sure what was happening or had enough time to get a description of the "getaway" vehicle.
Grant said these demonstrations show crowded parking lots in broad daylight are not a theft deterrent. Grant said that is why it is imperative not to leave personal items out in the open.
"Crime is a motive of opportunity," said Grant.
Grant suggested parking your vehicle as close to a building as possible. If at night, Grant suggested trying to park you vehicle under a light.
"The farther away you get the easier it is for a thief to stay hidden," said Grant.
Grant said there are also several after-market devices that can be installed on a vehicle to help prevent the type of thefts he demonstrated for Local 2. Also, try not to leave any documents with your home address in your car. Carry important papers in your wallet, purse or backpack.
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