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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Recovering Stolen Wheels


U.S. cities have been experiencing a rash of bicycle thefts, especially of high-end rides. At least two municipalities have special efforts in place to put the brakes on this activity. Police park pricey “bait bikes” in high-theft zones—bikes with GPS chips hidden in them. In Madison, Wisconsin, bike snatchings were down 40% the first year the GPS program took effect. In San Francisco, once cops catch up with the thieves, they tweet photos of them with the message “thank you 4 taking our bait bike.”

Bicycles aren’t the only personal conveyances seeing a rise in thefts. Retirees with limited incomes have taken to boosting four-wheelers from their neighbors. For some, it’s the only way they can become mobile again. Their families have taken away their car keys, usually because they’ve had numerous accidents. An elderly person driving a stolen conveyance is eight times as likely to get into a collision as a legitimate driver is. I guess they’re nervously looking over their shoulders instead of looking both ways.

The Villages in Florida reports a 60% increase in motorized scooters being stolen over the past two years. These numbers are overblown, however, because a considerable percentage of the reported thefts turn out to be someone having forgotten where they parked their wheels. Still, the snatchings are definitely on the rise and communities are encouraging members to use GPS technology to facilitate tracking down the errant vehicles.

For several condo developments in North Carolina that surround golf courses, golf carts are the primary method of transportation. So much so, that each condo comes with its own cart when you purchase the home. You’d think that would mean none of these get stolen, since everyone has his own. You would be wrong. Apparently, some retirees collect carts the way Jay Leno collects vintage cars. The trouble is, unlike Jay, those retirees are pinching most of their acquisitions.

All over the country, desperate retirees are becoming increasingly clever in disguising their thievery. One enterprising senior had custom decals made with the faces of his four grandchildren. He plastered them all over the stolen Jazzy scooter, assuming that would be proof that he owned the vehicle; but the hidden GPS chip tripped him up. When the ride was returned to its rightful owner, she covered the thief’s offspring with photos of her own grandchildren—all twelve of them. Talk about one-upmanship!

GPS helped track the NC golf cart culprit to a storage facility about a five iron away from his own condo. Inside were four missing carts, none still wearing its original paint. The duffer with sticky fingers also had a passion for painting. He insisted these were all his “original works of art,” but the trackers told a different story. He was forced to move out of his condo community. The bitterest pill was that he had to leave behind his own cart, painted in all its creative glory. It stayed with the unit when he left.

So far as we know, none of these retirement developments has made the foray into baiting conveyances yet. The four-wheelers that have been stolen all belonged to seniors who simply left their rides in the wrong place at the wrong time, something seniors are particularly adept at.

If the stealing trend continues to escalate, expect the condo police to mimic the professional ones in SF and Madison. They’ll leave shiny, tricked out Jazzys with GPS in tempting spots for unsuspecting seniors. When they catch up with the culprits, they’ll hand them cards that read: “You’ve been taken for a ride on my bait scooter.” Then they’ll spend two frustrating hours explaining what a “bait scooter” is and how GPS works. Come to think of it, that’s probably why they’ve been in no rush to roll with the new technology.

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