CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — In the colder months, it can be tempting to turn on your car and leave it running to warm up while you seek shelter inside, but police warn this often attracts thieves.

Car thefts continue to plague the Commonwealth. Thieves stole around 12,000 cars across the state in 2022, which represented more than $137 million in damages.

While the crime rate typically increases in the summer time, Sergeant Peter Lazear, who represents the Help Eliminate Auto Theft (HEAT) division of Virginia State Police, explained there is a specific genre of these crimes people should anticipate in the winter — “warm-up thefts.”

“They are a problem and unfortunately it’s a growing concern,” Lazear said.

These types of crimes are a particular niche of car thefts which occurs when a driver leaves a vehicle running and unattended to warm up as the driver returns indoors to wait. One of these vulnerable vehicles is easy to spot.

“You can see the condensation or the smoke coming out of the tailpipe while the vehicle is running,” Lazear explained. “So if you can see it, thieves can see it.”

Although less common, “car-jackings” can happen when a driver sits in a car as the engine heats up prior to hitting the road.

“A car can be taken whether you’re in it or not,” Matthew Rogers with Chesterfield County Police said.

However, an empty car makes a theft easier for a criminal. Police often urge members of the public to lock their doors and to take other precautions, but people continue to forget, which leads to more crimes.

“Be aware of your surroundings,” Rogers suggested. “Park in well-lit areas if possible.”

If you want to property your property during the cold months, deterrence measures can be extremely valuable and play a pivotal role in protecting your car from theft. Virginia State Police offer a variety of programs to do just that.

“We will etch your vehicle ID number on the glass of your vehicle,” Lazear said.

While it might be tempting to take a risk, officials noted preventing a theft is preferable to the headache that may follow a stolen car.

“I know it’s cold outside and you want to be warm,” Rogers said. “But we want you to be able to keep your vehicle.”

Anyone who is able to provide information regarding automobile thieves to state authorities could earn a reward of up to $25,000. You can find more information on how to submit a tip on Virginia State Police’s Facebook page.