Consider yourself warned: Your pickup truck's tailgate is coveted by thieves.
"The rate of tailgate theft claims has been increasing since 2009, with an 18 percent increase projected from 2011 to 2012," according to a report from the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Founded in 1912 as the National Automobile Theft Bureau to investigate vehicle thefts, for more than 20 years the NICB also has looked into various forms of automotive insurance fraud.
Its report on the theft of catalytic converters spurred a growth industry in converter security devices. Now, the theft of pickup truck tailgates has become so significant that the bureau has issued a report about them.
Because the NICB report tracks only claims made by vehicle owners to insurance companies - and therefore its numbers don't represent actual theft activity - it speculates that the numbers in the report are low. Nevertheless, between 2006 and 2009 only 23 tailgate thefts were processed nationally. The figure for 2010 was 430 and grew to 472 in 2011. Through Sept. 30, 2012, 418 claims had been made; the NICB projects the 2012 final total will be more than 550.
Among states, Texas residents reported the most tailgate thefts, followed by those living in California, Arizona, Florida and Nevada. The cities posting the most tailgate thefts were Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Phoenix and Fresno in Northern California.
"Tailgates can be stolen in less than 30 seconds, making them prime targets of opportunity," the NICB report says. "With replacement costs reaching $1,000 or more, it makes sense for pickup owners to make their tailgates less attractive to thieves."
To make your tailgate difficult to steal, NICB recommends taking the following actions:
1. Lock your tailgate if it has a factory-installed lock. If not, an aftermarket replacement latch assembly with a lock may be available for your truck.
2. Park with your truck's tailgate as close as possible to a building or other large object that prevents the tailgate from being opened.
3. Etch the truck's vehicle identification number or a personal identification number into the tailgate. This may prevent it from being stolen or at least make it easier to recover if it is stolen.
Why do people steal tailgates?
"People want them," said Frank Scafidi, spokesman for the NICB. "If theirs gets banged up, why spend $900 or whatever they're going for if you can get one for $100 or $150?"
Scafidi also said some body shops have been known to buy stolen tailgates and use them in what he called a "two-way scam."
In that scenario, a customer goes to the body shop for truck repairs that include a replacement tailgate. The shop goes to a local pickup truck dealership and buys a new tailgate to get the invoice to turn into the insurance company, but then, according to Scafidi, "finds a part from Midnight Auto Supply and paints it up and installs it." A few weeks later, after the shop has been reimbursed by the insurance company, the new tailgate is returned to the dealership for a refund or credit.
Scafidi added that the NICB is looking into what it sees as another growing trend in automotive thefts: the third-row seats from sport utility vehicles.