Thieves in Seattle are finding a new way to target victims: stealing vehicle registrations from cars parked at movie theaters, checking the address of the registration, and heading straight for the vehicle owners' homes for a two-hour stealing spree.
The Kings County, Wash., Sheriff's Department has responded to four reports of car burglaries in the past two weeks that have turned out to be much more than a smash-and-grab thefts.
As moviegoers arrive in the parking lot and leave their cars to go inside, vigilant thieves swoop in, smash the passengers' side window and reach into the glove box to steal one vital piece of information: their car registration.
"I would imagine that they probably watch the people pull up to movie, figure they're going to be gone for two hours. It's likely that they'll knock on the (car owner's) door to see if someone's home, and if not, go around back to break in," said Sgt. Cyndi West.
Gary Van Wieringen, a Washington resident whose car and home were broken into, said he never thought to take his registration with him when leaving his car.
"Redmond police showed up within four minutes. Their first question to us was, have you checked for your registration?" Van Wieringen, whose house was robbed while he watched a movie, ABC News affiliate KOMO. "Like the sign says, don't leave your valuables in the car. But it doesn't say don't leave your registration in the car."
When the individuals emerge from the movie or dinner to see their car window broken, they call police, but often don't realize that the thieves are already nearly finished robbing their homes.
"In all of our cases, nothing else was taken, and then when the individual gets home from the movie or wherever, the house had been broken into," West said.
Police suspect that the four Seattle crimes are related, but are warning residents to be aware of copycat burglars.
"At the very least lock your glove box," West said. "It's just a deterrent. It's not going to keep someone with the right tools out. Or keep you registration on you. If there's only one person operating the vehicle, keep it on so you have it available."
West warns against hiding vehicle registrations in the trunk or under a floor mat because, in the event the driver gets pulled over by law enforcement and reaches to get their registration out, police could mistake the hidden object for a gun. West advises drivers that do hide their registrations to tell police as they approach the car that the registration is under the seat and they'll have to reach to get it.
The Kings County Sheriff's Department is watching surveillance tape from the parking lots where the original break-ins occurred, West said.