STRAFFORD, Mo. -- Criminals prey on people warming up their cold cars. Police warn thieves patrol neighborhoods to try to spot perfect targets for what could be the perfect crime.
"It can be a big problem," said Strafford Police Chief Justhan Webster.
It can be easy access for thieves. On a cold morning, the exhaust from the tail pipe of an unattended running vehicle can be a clue for criminals to steal the car.
"If valuables are in plain sight, not locked in the glove box, not locked in the center console, it's easy for them to get away with it; they can grab and go," said Webster. "They're looking for how easy access is it."
It takes seconds for criminals to get away with the crime. Police warned it will take a lot longer to get your things back -- if they can even find it.
"If people don't write down the serial numbers of the electronics they have, it's hard to track down their belongings," Webster said.
To avoid the hassle, many people flocked to places like Creative Car Audio in Springfield to get remote starts installed. The price for the devices start at about $100 and allow the user to turn on a car without using a key.
"A lot of people are having problems with their cars being stolen after they start them. They put the key in, start it. With all of our systems, they are actually going to prevent that," said Nick Gunther with Creative Car Audio. "You wouldn't be able to get in and drive off with it. Once you put your foot on the brake, if you don't have the key in the ignition, it actually turns off the vehicle."
Some security systems also come with smartphone applications that allow you to track your vehicle.
"Say somebody is trying to break into your vehicle at night, you are going to get a text message notification letting you know, 'front window busted out' or 'rear door hit.' It's pretty nice," said Gunther. "You can also get it with GPS tracking. So, if your vehicle is ever stolen, you're going to be able to track your vehicle."
While the installed technology can instill a sense of security, police said the best thing to do is be in your car while it warms.
"The best option is to definitely not to warm your car up without it in sight of you," Webster said.
Here are some other ways to stay safe from the National Crime Prevention Council:
• Never leave your car running or the keys in the ignition when are away from it, even for "just a minute."
• Keep valuables out of sight or in the trunk. Purses, credit cards, and cell phones in plain view only help attract thieves.
• Always roll up the windows and lock your car, even if it is in your driveway, garage, or in front of your home.
• Never leave the registration or title in your car. If stolen, it makes it easier for the thief to dispose of your vehicle. It can also make you a target for identity theft.
• Be alert when approaching your car, have a plan of action, and have your keys in your hand. Check around, under and in your vehicle for suspicious individuals. Immediately leave the scene to get help if you have any concerns for your safety.
• Only park your car in busy, well-lighted areas.
• Install a mechanical locking device-commonly called clubs, collars, or j-bars-that locks to the steering wheel, column, or brake.
• If your vehicle has an alarm or other anti-theft device, use it.