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LIVONIA, Mich. — It's not just drivers that need to be leery of rising "unconventional" vehicle theft-related crimes in Michigan.

Dealers, too, have fallen prey to these thieves lately and should remain vigilant and educated about the rather creative methods culprits are using to snatch cars, according to Help Eliminate Auto Theft (H.E.A.T.), an organization that teams with Michigan law enforcement to crack down on auto crimes in the state.

After the Automobile Theft Prevention Authority unveiled its annual report recently, H.E.A.T. is urging consumers and dealers to be mindful as thieves adapt and employ new "schemes and scams," even though "traditional" auto theft has remained on a downward slope.

"With increased vehicle security features, and the continuing success of Michigan law enforcement's hard-working auto theft units, crooks are turning to new schemes and scams to separate innocent drivers from their property," said Terri Miller, director of H.E.A.T. "Even auto dealerships are now being targeted by desperate thieves looking for new ways to secure stolen vehicles."

One particular area in which H.E.A.T. has expressed concern for dealers is the rise in key-theft schemes, where a thief will first steal keys from the dealership, then come back later on to drive away with the vehicle when the store has closed.

So what should dealers do?

H.E.A.T. recommends that when someone comes in for a test drive, the dealer makes sure he or she has valid identification. They should also keep tabs on what vehicle in which a potential buyers drives to the store.

Dealers are also advised to inspect keys closely and test the key fob after they are brought back following a test drive.

"Of course, it's not just auto dealers that need to be educated on thieves' new plots," Miller added. "Michigan drivers also need to be aware of the evolving trend in unconventional auto theft-related crimes, and take necessary precautions to protect themselves and their property, both what they currently own and in the buying and selling process.

"If the deal on a used car seems 'too good to be true,' it's likely stolen," Miller continued.

H.E.A.T. indicated that among the growing unconventional auto theft-related crimes in Michigan are: 

—Component Theft: Thieves have stolen vehicle parts and then sold them to "crooked" dealers and repair shops. Particularly problematic has been the theft tires, rims, airbags and navigation systems.

—Online fraud: "Open market" sites and online communities like Craigslist.com have been become popular and rather easy places for thieves to sell or trade stolen vehicles. 

—Vehicle re-tagging/cloning: First, culprits access legitimate vehicle identification numbers of units with the same year, make, model and color of a stolen vehicle. Then, they swap or duplicate the identifying digits.

—Check fraud: Someone buys a car from an individual, and tries to pay with a fake "certified check." They demand the sale is conducted during an evening or weekend. That way, the seller cannot immediately verify the check.

H.E.A.T. urges anyone with information related to suspicious or criminal auto theft-related activity in their community to immediately contact police. Then, they should report it to H.E.A.T. at 1-800-242-HEAT or www.1800242HEAT.com.