FAIRFIELD, NJ — Due to recent incidents in which two vehicles were stolen from a driveway on Talbot Drive in Fairfield on Friday and similar occurrences in several surrounding towns, Fairfield Township Mayor James Gasparini warned Fairfield residents during the mayor and council meeting on Monday to always lock their cars and never leave keys or key fobs inside their vehicles.

Gasparini also encouraged residents to “be diligent” and never leave their cars running unattended, as this is an open invitation to car thieves.

According to Gasparini, it was reported that there is a "very sophisticated" group of car thieves targeting the West Essex area of the county, including recent incidents in Essex Fells, Roseland, Livingston, Maplewood and more. The three suspects involved in the Essex Fells/Roseland incidents were apprehended, according to Gasparini, but others were not.

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“A similar group of car thieves was apprehended a while ago,” said Gasparini. “When there is a void, it will be filled.”

Following the meeting, Fairfield Chief of Police Anthony Manna elaborated on the incidents, stating that these “sophisticated” car thieves are stealing cars and either using them to commit other crimes or, in some cases, selling them overseas to Africa and South America.

Chief Manna also explained that when cars are stolen, many times they wind up in Newark and are involved in other crimes.

“The recent cars stolen from Fairfield were involved in much more serious crimes,” he said.

In fact, a vehicle stolen out of a driveway in Livingston early Monday morning was used later that same day in an armed robbery to a gas station in Belleville, according to Livingston police. After Livingston police reported the description and license-plate number of the stolen vehicle, Belleville police identified it as the same vehicle used by three black males armed with handguns and masks.

The owner of the vehicle stolen in Livingston stated that he left his car running briefly in the driveway to warm it up and found it missing only minutes later. Chief Manna stated that cars should never be left running in driveways to warm up or be left running while one quickly runs into a store or goes to an ATM machine.

It only takes a few seconds for a car to be stolen, according to Manna, who added that the thieves are riding around the West Essex area looking for such cars.  A car owner has false security that if his or her car is in the driveway, it is safe. However, according to Manna, it is not.

Thieves also are looking for GPS devices, money and other valuables. Such items have been removed from dozens of unlocked vehicles in the West Essex area in recent weeks.

According to the Fairfield Police website, “It is also a good practice to keep valuable items out of view and in the trunk.”

An additional problem, Manna said, is that many new cars have side mirrors that fold in when the key fob is removed. If a thief sees that the car mirrors are extended, they know that it is likely a key fob is in the vehicle.

Also, although it is expensive to ship these vehicles overseas, the vehicles are typically valued between $70,000 and $100,000, so the thieves are still making a profit in doing so, according to Manna. He said actors also are stealing registrations and other documents from unlocked cars and shipping them overseas with the stolen vehicles.

“In New Jersey, if a car is left running and unattended, it is illegal, and the owner can be ticketed,” said Manna. “The police realize that cars today can have remote car starters that allow the car to heat up while it is still locked, but by the letter of the law, it still is illegal.”

If anyone sees anything suspicious, they are encouraged to contact their local police department.