The Broward County Sheriff's Office put out an alert that since Nov. 1, there have been 70 reported car break-ins in Deerfield Beach, Tamarac, and Weston. In all of them, the thieves targeted Honda models and Acuras for their airbags.
"I just look in and saw my steering wheel torn apart," said Michelle Hurley of Deerfield Beach.
Initially, she thought someone was trying to steal her brand new Honda Accord.
"It wasn't until like after the panic left a little bit, I realized that my lock had been torn off of the car and they had actually only stolen my airbag. Nothing else was missing," said Hurley.
There are 70 more victims all from the Broward County area. Detectives said the airbags are selling on the black market for up to $200. A new one can cost up to $1,000.
"These unscrupulous shops may be purchasing the airbags, billing the customer out full retail and only paying $45, $50, $100 for that unit," said Angel Borges, Owner of Angel's Autocare Center.
Borges said properly removing an airbag can take a mechanic up to 20 minutes depending on the car. But the thieves are not concerned about causing damage, they're doing it in less than 5 minutes. So we timed it out.
Without factoring in the time it would take to break into the car, it took Borges 37 seconds to get to the airbag and he was being careful not to cause any damage. Detectives said the thieves are targeting large apartment complexes to go from car to car.
"You just can't help but feel violated, taken advantage of," said Hurley.
This crime can also put other drivers at risk. If you end up with a stolen airbag installed in your car, it may not work or it could deploy at the wrong time.
"You don't know what damage has occurred to the unit itself," added Borges.
Hurley is not only paying a $1,000 deductible to fix her car. "It's definitely a huge setback and it just hurts altogether," said Hurley.
She's making sure she does not wind up with a stolen one.
"When I spoke to the dealership, I said I want to make sure the airbag that I received from the vehicle is brand new and I guess, you just don’t know you don’t know who are buying these airbags," she added.
Local law enforcement agencies from Boca Raton to the Treasure Coast have not seen this trend yet, but Broward detectives believe the thieves could be from the tri-county of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach.
The thieves are targeting apartment complexes so make sure you park in a well-lit area. You can also talk to the management company of the complex and make sure they are aware of the trend. Also, share the information with your neighbors so everyone can be vigilant in the community.
If you're getting your airbag repaired or replaced, use a reputable collision auto shop. Check your invoice to make sure the shop bought the airbag from the manufacturer, dealer, or certified recycler. If possible, ask to inspect the airbag before it's installed and check that it's in a sealed container from the manufacturer. Once your airbag is installed, make sure the airbag system lights up or flashes when you turn on your car. If the light is off, it could indicate an issue.
If you suspect fraud or theft, report it to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. You can call 800-TEL-NCIB or 800-835-6422 or text "fraud" to TIP411 or 847411