TAMPA, Florida -- As gas prices around the Tampa Bay area again creep closer to the $4 mark,a crime trend is rising along with them.
Hillsborough County deputies say scooter thefts have soared since January,around the first time this yearthe pain at the pump increased.
Mike Ferguson knows how frustrating it can be. A few weeks ago he woke up to find his only mode of transportation, his scooter, had vanished. It left him with no way to get to work.
"At first it was shock. I couldn't believe that it happened," Ferguson described.
Despite overall crime being down 5.5% in the first part of 2012, Hillsborough deputies say scooter and motorcycle thefts are up 10%. More than 30 have been ripped off from the northern part of the county alone.
Investigators say they're being taken from apartment complexes, strip malls, even front porches. They tell 10 News the thieves are mostly teens or young adults using them to joyride or as transportation.
"They are a target of opportunity. They are smaller, so not a lot of people are looking out for folks trying to mess around with scooters and take them," said Cpl. Doug White, with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
Deputies say locks and alarms are available for less than $100.
In a shopping center, they advise to look for surveillance cameras and park near them. Also, they say it's important to register a scooter, so it's much easier to track down if it gets stolen.
Deputies have placed several electronic message boards around the county to warn drivers of the trend.
"Most of these, if not all so far that we've experienced this year, are preventable," said Lt. Rick Jahnke, with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
In Ferguson's case, his ride was returned, thanks to some good police work. But not without $800 in damage.
"I would say definitely get some security measures," he cautioned.
Deputies say they have made a handful of arrests. Because of the value, they say stealing a scooteris considered grand theft auto.