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BOSTON (MainStreet) — Attention Halloween revelers: Don't be surprised if car thieves ignore their candy collection in favor of your car if you leave your vehicle unlocked or the keys in the ignition tonight.

That's because the National Insurance Crime Bureau has found that Halloween is the No. 1 holiday for U.S. auto thefts, with 13.3% more cars than average stolen that day.

"Halloween is a great day for professional car thieves, and there are more than a handful of cases where [practical jokers] also do stupid things that they wouldn't do otherwise," the NICB's Frank Scafidi says.

The NICB, an insurance-industry consortium, found that Americans reported 2,328 Halloween car thefts in 2011, the latest year the group has analyzed.

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That's the highest number of auto rip-offs recorded for any of 11 holidays that the NICB tracks, as well as far above the 2,055 car thefts reported on the average 2011 day.

In fact, Halloween has placed no lower than third on a study that the NICB has produced every year since 2009 showing the worst holidays for car thefts.

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Scafidi suspects automotive ghouls and goblins steal an inordinate number of cars on Oct. 31 for several reasons.

First, the holiday keeps an unusually high number of potential victims out late into the night, with revelers anxious to get to parties sometimes forgetting to lock their cars or parking in neighborhoods they're not familiar with.

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At the same time, Halloween drinking increases the possibility of bad behavior on the part of practical jokers, as does the "anything-goes" attitude of a holiday where you dress up like something you're not.

"There's this general atmosphere of: 'We're not ourselves, and maybe we can even act like the fool that we're dressed as,'" Scafidi says. "So if you're dressed like Vin Diesel in XXX, why not steal a car?"

To make sure you still have your car Nov. 1, Scafidi recommends remembering to take basic precautions such as locking your vehicle's doors and taking the key with you, even if you're just running into a store. Ditto to turning on any car alarms or other security systems your ride has, no matter how briefly you plan to be away.

"We see it all of the time: People pull into a store for 10 seconds and run in with their car's engine running — and that's all it takes for somebody who's been waiting there looking for that situation to jump in and drive away," Scafidi says.

— By Jerry Kronenberg