CENTERVILLE, Ohio (WDTN) – Centerville Police are warning residents to be more vigilant about protecting their vehicles and the items left inside.

Public information officer for the Centerville Police Department, John Davis, said the city, along with other municipalities along the I-75 corridor between Dayton and Cincinnati, have noticed an increase in thefts.

“The thing that’s very interesting about this though, is that these are very preventable because [thieves] are not breaking into cars,” said Davis. “They’re finding unlocked vehicles and if the keys are in them, they’re taking them.”

Curtis Miller, a Centerville resident, said that’s exactly what happened to his grandmother’s car Wednesday morning after she misplaced her key fob.

“The car is a push to start, and so it operates with a key fob,” he said. “And my grandma had actually just went out of town a few days before this, and she had lost her key fob. So we’re thinking that it could’ve possibly been in there still.”

Miller said his brother saw the car parked outside around midnight Wednesday morning. However, when Miller went outside around 5:45 a.m. to go to work, he noticed that the car was gone and a bike had been left in its place, making transportation for their retired grandmother a challenge. But Davis said the thieves aren’t just getting away with vehicles. They’re getting away with other low-hanging, valuable fruit as well.

“Anything from change, to earbuds, to cameras, phones, wallets. People leave firearms in the cars. So we’re just asking people — don’t leave those things in the car. Or lock your car door. Because we’ve seen it time and time again on video — they come up, they pull on the door handle, it’s locked, they move on.”

According to some social media posts, community members speculate the thieves are a group of youngsters from the Cincinnati area who have a reputation for stealing cars. A later Facebook post from Springboro Police Department seemed to have confirmed that idea, stating in part:

“Several of the members of this group responsible have been identified and several apprehended. Our Detective Section has also been coordinating its investigations with a number of other agencies in SW Ohio. This effort will continue until all persons responsible are arrested and this criminal activity has ceased.”

Recovery locations of stolen vehicles also lead authorities to believe there is a connection.

“From what I’ve seen, they’re taking them out for joyrides and then they’re just leaving them. They’re not being sold. We’re recovering all of them in the Cincinnati area. Most of them –the ones that I’ve heard of — have been recovered in the Cincinnati area,” said Davis.

With the location of crimes always changing and with different groups participating in thefts at various times, both Miller and Davis said the best way to protect your vehicle is to take preventative measures before a crime occurs.

“I have not had any [cases] where there has been forcible entry to the car unless there was something of obvious value there,” said Davis. “So that’s why I say it’s so preventable if you just take those things with you and lock your car doors.”

Miller added, “I’ve lived in Centerville for 20-plus years now and I have never seen any type of crimes like this — these kinds of thefts. So it is easy to let your guard down, but I’d definitely make sure that you don’t leave any valuable possessions in your car. Lock your cars at night even if it’s in your garage or in your driveway, because they’re trying at every car. They’re kind of ruthless as far as that goes.”

Davis said people should also be more diligent about closing garage doors and locking car doors that have a garage door opener inside to prevent thieves from stealing more vehicles and valuable items.