Terre Haute, Indiana Sees Rise in Moped Thefts

By Lisa Trigg | May 7, 2014

With gas prices close to $4 per gallon, Terre Haute resident Russell Moffatt had been happy to park his gas-guzzling pickup truck in favor of a fuel efficient moped that he could ride to work.

That is, until someone stole the blue and silver 2011 Kait from his backyard near 11th and Franklin streets.

“I’m just really frustrated,” Moffatt told the Tribune-Star. “It’s the second time it’s been ripped off. I bought it because it would pay for itself.”

The first time it was stolen, he got the vehicle back just a few days later when Terre Haute Police made a traffic stop on a truck and found Moffatt’s stolen moped in the bed of the truck.

But he holds out little hope that he will be so lucky again this time.

In fact, Terre Haute Police Detective Brad Rumsey said that the recovery of Moffatt’s mo-ped the first time was definitely the exception, not the rule.

“Mopeds are stolen prolifically,” Rumsey said. “I’d say we have a couple scooters stolen per week, every week of the year, almost without exception.”

Part of the problem, he said, is that moped owners may not always secure their vehicle properly. If the vehicle is kept outdoors, it should be chained to a stationary object using a heavy chain and lock.

“A log chain with a thick lock and a steel post in the ground” are about the only way to slow down a scooter thief, Rumsey said. “People need to spend good dollars on a heavy chain. They need to protect their scooter as much as it is valuable to them.”

The commonly used bike cables and locks are too easy to sever with bolt cutters, he said. But too often, scooter owners just park their vehicle where they think it will be visible and safe, only to find out later that a thief boldly made off with the scooter in broad daylight. The vehicles are also so light that two people can easily lift one into the back of an awaiting vehicle to make a quick get-away.

Moffatt thinks that something like that happened to his mo-ped. It was parked at the rear of his house next to his back porch steps, several dozen feet from the alley.

“Usually, I lock it to the porch rail. But this time I didn’t,” Moffatt said.

He recently had the moped serviced for a season of summer riding. He also recently paid the city-required registration fee and had a new permit decal on the scooter.

Having that sticker makes him hope that he will get the moped back if the rider is pulled over by police and a check is run on the vehicle. But as Rumsey pointed out, that may not be the case.

“The stickers are helpful, because we get the VINs (vehicle identification number) into the system,” Rumsey said of the registration through the city police department. “Before, we weren’t getting any information on the scooters, so when we did recover one, we didn’t know if it was stolen or not.”

Rumsey said that mopeds in general are high-theft items, easily the most-stolen item that the department has.

City police are aware of that, and they are actually looking for them. The detective explained that whether it is a car, a moped or an all-terrain vehicle that is stolen, a copy of the theft report is posted for patrol officers to receive on each shift. For many days, those reports stay posted to remind the officers of what to look for when they are on patrol.

“We are looking for them,” Rumsey said of stolen vehicles. “But with scooters, the parts on them are interchangeable.”

He recalled one of his investigations in which the owner of a stolen mo-ped spotted his vehicle parked at a local supermarket. The owner notified police, and the details he had given police of the body parts of his mo-ped matched the suspect vehicle. However, the mo-ped itself was not stolen. It just had been refitted with parts from the stolen mo-ped.

The person in possession of that scooter was arrested and charged with possession of stolen auto parts.

Rumsey said that people who buy used scooters should also be aware that they may be buying stolen items.

“We are finding stolen mopeds when a person brings one in to register it, and the next thing you know, he is sitting in an interview room with an officer explaining where he got the mo-ped,” Rumsey said.

One technique that has been useful for some vehicle owners, he said, has been to place a small GPS tracking device on the vehicle.

Rumsey said he has seen at least one person convicted of theft after a GPS device revealed the location of the scooter. And, he has found four or five stolen vehicles based on GPS trackers.

Moffatt said Thursday that he has now looked into getting a GPS device for his next scooter. The tracker costs about $60, and it can be monitored through a person’s smartphone.

“For $60, I could have saved $750,” Moffatt said.

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