Some crimes are hard to avoid. Keeping your car license plate from getting stolen is one of them.
In the past week, thieves snatched license plates in broad daylight from at least three cars parked outside Boca Raton businesses and apartments.
Criminals are ripping off more and more license plates from parked cars, Boca Raton police spokeswoman Sandra Boonenberg said. The city reported 44 license-plate thefts so far this year, through May 11. That's up from 27 thefts during the same period in 2011.
"It happens everywhere — in parking lots at malls, grocery stores," Boonenberg said.
The increase likely is linked to criminals who need "clean" tags on their cars to avoid detection from new license-plate scanners police are using. Patrol cars across South Florida have installed automatic license-plate readers that identify stolen vehicles or cars belonging to criminal suspects and gang members.
There are 8,409 license plates reported stolen in Palm Beach County and 11,466 in Broward County, state records show.
Boynton Beach police handled 30 license-plate or decal-only thefts from January to April, compared with 28 during the same period in 2011.
Last week, a 45-year-old man found his plates missing after returning to his car parked outside Sears Auto Center, 888 NW 13th St. in Boca Raton. He told police he saw a suspicious black car parked directly behind his car, but the driver drove away as soon as he walked up.
A 51-year-old woman called police minutes later to report her license plate was taken in the same parking lot. The next day, someone swiped the license plate from a blue 2001 Audi in the San Marco apartment complex, 5535 N. Military Trail.
Drivers can't do much to stop thieves from swiping their tags, so park in a garage if you have one, Boonenberg said. Make sure to glance at your plate whenever you walk to your car, she said, and call police as soon as you notice it missing.
That way, license-plate readers will notify police if another car drives by with your tags.