How to Avoid, and Survive, Being Carjacked

Veteran detective offers his five tips for preventing a scary situation.

ByABC News
January 21, 2015, 1:27 PM

— -- intro: College sophomore Bobby Christman was sitting in his friend Jenn’s parked car near a nightclub in downtown St. Louis when the unthinkable happened.

An attacker forced open the back door of the car to grab Jenn’s purse, and when Christman, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, tried to intervene, he was shot in the head and later died at the hospital. Christman’s funeral was held last week, and his attacker remains at large.

Veteran detectives say that while Christman’s actions may have been courageous, people can learn lessons from the tragic outcome. Often times, thieves aren’t looking to steal your wallet, they’re after your car. Almost 700,000 cars were stolen in 2013, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Joe Giacalone, a retired NYPD detective sergeant who spent 20 years on the force, has seen every type of violent crime imaginable. He believes carjackings are increasingly becoming more common these days because security on luxury cars is more sophisticated. Thieves can no longer just break in and hot wire these cars, the engine has to be running.

“As the tech has gotten better, cars are less likely to be stolen, especially high-end cars, but those are the ones that thieves are targeting,” he said. “But if they can’t steal it while it’s sitting in the parking lot, they are going to take it while it’s running and that’s the problem.”

Giacalone offered his tips for preventing a carjacking from happening to you.

quicklist:1title:Just Give Thieves What They Wantmedia:28379862text:One of the biggest mistakes people make in winter time is keeping their cars idling to warm them up, and when drivers get between a carjacker and their prey, the consequences can be deadly. If a carjacker approaches you and demands to take your car, Giacalone said, let him.

“Just let him take the property,” he said. “Dying for property is never the way to go. If the person you’re with is in some physical danger -- all bets are off at this point -- you have to fight but when it just comes to protecting your own property let it go and replace it.”

If you have a child in the car with you, Giacalone said always take the child with you and tell the thieves you have a child in the car.

“Say, ‘listen you can have my car but my child’s in the back.’ I’m telling you right now the bad guys want no part of the kid,” he said.

quicklist:2title:Beware of Bumper Tap and $20 Trickstext:Giacalone said criminals sometimes create opportunities in order to grab your car when the engine is still on, such as with the “bumper tap.”

“They'll come and just tap your bumper, and most people say ‘ahh,’ and get out of the car, and before you know it three or four people are on top of you,” he said. “If you're all alone drive to the nearest police station… weigh the issue about how much damage you could possibly have.”

Or, Giacalone said, criminals will strategically place a $20 bill on your windshield.

“An unsuspecting person, putting on their seatbelt, they go, ‘What's that? Money!’ The car is running mind you. They go get the money off the windshield wiper,” he said. “In the time it takes to do that, [the thieves] are already inside your car driving away, and then most people try to get in the way and that's when you get run over.”

quicklist:3title:Park Close to Parking Garage Exits, and Back Into Spacestext:A quarter of all carjackings occur in parking garages or parking lots, or near commercial areas, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey.

Giacalone said look for spots close to the main entrance of the building or in an area with lots of light. If possible, he added, try to back into a parking space because “it’s difficult, especially in an emergency, to drive backwards if you had to.”

quicklist:4title:Your Phone Is Your Enemytext:Walking to your car, phone in hand, or even just sitting in the driver’s seat with your phone might turn you into a target, Giacalone said, because you’re not paying attention to your surroundings.

“They're texting. They're Facebooking. They got the music on, they’re singing, things on their ears. This is something bad guys know,” he said. “You're distracted. Your eyes always got to be moving.”

quicklist:5title:Keep the Car in Drive When at the ATMtext:If you’re pulling up to a drive-thru ATM, Giacalone said never park your car. Instead, keep it in drive and keep your foot on the brake so if you need to, you can make a quick getaway.

“Have your ATM card ready. Pull up as close as you can to the ATM machine, because it prevents someone from coming in to slide in between you. Use your rear-view mirror to make sure no one is coming up behind you,” he said.

Grabbing money out of the machine is when you’re at your most vulnerable, Giacalone continued, “because now the guy waiting for you knows you're ready to go but you still need to retrieve your ATM card. Take it, put your foot on the gas, and make sure you don't hit anyone who's walking, and you are gone.”