SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — The Santa Barbara Police Department is telling people to be aware of suspicious activity stemming from high traffic areas like retail parking lots or beachfront parking areas.
The constant turnover and activity aid a thief’s ability to blend in with the environment.
Recently, police say there has been a rash of vehicle burglaries and theft from vehicles at Hendry’s Beach as well as other beachfront parking areas and trailheads.
Police suspect professional crews are specifically targeting those areas due to high-value opportunities.
"A regular storage area is in the car and of course, thieves know that,” Santa Barbara Police public information officer Anthony Wagner said. "They target parked vehicles around the holidays."
The cars are often accessed while locked with the use of tools to force entry.
Sometimes, thieves steal only a couple of credit cards, returning the wallet or purse to its original location in the vehicle.
Before an unsuspecting victim realizes that they have been robbed, they rack up thousands of dollars of charges.
"They put the wallet exactly back where they found it, so you don't know that your car has been tampered with,” Wagner said. “It sometimes takes hours or days for you to figure out that you've been taken."
Longtime Santa Barbara resident Judith McCaffrey knows this first-hand.
Last week, she left her purse concealed in her car at Leadbetter Beach. A few hours later, she received a call from her bank asking if her credit card had been stolen.
"The most shocking thing is that I wouldn't have noticed it,” McCaffrey said. "I reached in the back and my purse was still under the bags. I then pulled it up and those three cards were missing out of my wallet."
The thieves charged over $800 on her three cards at Target in Goleta.
McCaffrey is also looking at a costly $500 bill to repair the damage to her car.
Yet, she’s not the only one who’s surprised by this uptick in crime.
"I would definitely not notice if they took my card out, so I'd be the one getting the call from the bank,” Los Angeles resident Danielle Kornblit said. “This is a good thing to think about when leaving stuff in the car."
"I'm shocked to hear that there's crime here, frankly,” another Santa Barbara resident said. “I’m glad I just found out because I won't leave my wallet in the car anymore."
At the end of the day, McCaffrey says it’s a valuable lesson.
"Even if it’s broad daylight in what you think is a safe place, I would never leave my wallet or anything of value in my car,” McCaffrey concluded.
The Santa Barbara Police Department is encouraging everyone to bring their belongings with them to avoid becoming yet another victim of car theft.