Intelligence Reports Provide Effective Vehicle Theft Analysis

By Josh Cahill

NICB released two reports in 2023 that aimed to inform our stakeholders and collaborators of the ongoing trends in vehicle thefts. The 2022 Vehicle Theft Threat Assessment was produced to highlight the schemes and tactics employed by criminals targeting vehicles. Following the release of this assessment, NICB issued the 2023 Q1 Vehicle Theft Trend Report. This report was created to demonstrate how the methods of theft highlighted in the 2022 Vehicle Theft Threat Assessment were continuing to affect trends in vehicle theft in the first quarter of 2023.

According to the 2022 Vehicle Theft Threat Assessment, familiar methods of vehicle theft are still being employed by criminals across the country. The rise in carjackings has made national headlines, and according to a recent NICB report, thefts facilitated by keys are still occurring at a concerning rate. Over 100,000 thefts were facilitated by keys in 2021, according to the NICB’s 2019–2021 Vehicle Thefts Facilitated by a Key ForeCASTSM Report. Seasonality appears to affect the trajectories of this type of theft as thefts facilitated by keys have been shown to increase in the winter and summer months. Often, owners will leave their vehicles running and unattended while getting ready in the morning or running errands to keep them warm or cool depending on the season. Within seconds, a thief can get in and drive off before the owner knows what happened.

Vehicle Theft Trends
While some common theft tactics are still popular among criminals, bad actors and organized crime groups continue to evolve to evade the persistent determination of those in law enforcement and the insurance industry. 

Finance fraud has been a favored tactic employed by criminals in recent years. This method enables criminals to secure a vehicle through seemingly legitimate means. With the stolen identity of a non-criminal, or an identity created out of thin air using phony social security numbers, better known as a synthetic identity, a thief can walk into a dealership and buy a vehicle without raising any red flags. Stolen or synthetic identities are often coupled with falsified documents that inflate income or credit information, or provide fake residency documentation and job status, further adding legitimacy to a criminal’s supposed identity.

An emerging trend in vehicle theft is the use of key learning technology. Criminals are able to obtain key programming devices that can be used to create keys and fobs for vehicles they are targeting for theft. Two other pieces of technology are also on the radar of the insurance industry: the Flipper Zero device and Apple Air Tags. The Apple Air Tags, small, circular GPS devices meant to find lost household items, have allegedly been planted on vehicles, usually in an inconspicuous place like the wheel well. From there, a phone application is used by criminals to track the vehicles from parking lots and dealerships to locations where thieves can then pounce and make the steal. The Flipper Zero is a device that can intercept signals like radio frequencies and infrared, mimic the signal, then use it for a specific task. Capabilities like this could possibly allow for criminals to intercept signals like those emitted from a key fob, allowing them to then open and start a vehicle.

Thefts by Locale
The effects of the threats identified in the 2022 Vehicle Theft Threat Assessment can be seen in NICB’s 2023 Q1 Vehicle Theft Trend Report. This new report includes geographical analysis of vehicle theft trends present in the United States at the state, core-based statistical area (CBSA), and city level. 

Though vehicle thefts are still at or near record highs, thefts are down overall in the first quarter of 2023 when compared to the same time period in 2022. While states with large populations like California and Texas usually rank the highest when analyzing geographical theft data, the 2023 Q1 Vehicle Theft Trend Report also contains sections that are intended to highlight less populous areas. Spotlight sections are included for the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southwest, Midwest, Southeast, West, and Northwest regions as defined by NICB’s operation map.

Each section highlights a state, CBSA, or city in the region where notable trends have been identified. This was done with the intention of fostering awareness for areas of the U.S. that may not usually be included in the top 10 lists of an NICB report. By including these sections, states like Vermont and Connecticut—where vehicle theft has increased by a statistically significant amount relative to the population of each state—can be highlighted, allowing for more of NICB’s allies and stakeholders to take notice. 

Positive trends are highlighted in these sections as well. In the Midwest, vehicle thefts in Wisconsin have trended down from Q1 2022 to Q1 2023. By including areas where thefts have decreased, NICB is able to paint a wide-ranging and balanced view of vehicle theft in the U.S.

Both the 2022 Vehicle Theft Threat Assessment and the 2023 Q1 Vehicle Theft Trend Report were created to provide all who have an interest in turning the tide on criminals when it comes to vehicle theft with detailed, effective analysis. For more information on these reports and operational assistance, contact the NICB office in your area.

Anyone with information concerning insurance fraud or vehicle theft can report it anonymously by calling toll-free 800.TEL.NICB (800.835.6422) or submitting a form on our website.

About the National Insurance Crime Bureau: Headquartered in Oak Brook, Ill., the NICB is the nation's leading not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to combatting and preventing insurance crime through Intelligence, Analytics, and Operations; Education and Crime Prevention; and Strategy, Policy, and Advocacy. The NICB is supported by more than 1,200 property and casualty insurance companies and self-insured organizations. NICB member companies wrote over $582 billion in insurance premiums in 2021, or more than 82% of the nation's property-casualty insurance. That includes more than 96% of the nation's personal auto insurance. To learn more, visit