New Jersey residents are being warned to stay alert for a sneaky kind of crime at gas stations in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington D.C.

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"What's happening in other states where folks have to get out of their cars and pump their own gas is criminals are crouching down at the side of the vehicle, near the passenger side and opening up the door of the vehicle, and taking any personal belongings that are left on that passengers seat," saidTracy Noble, spokesperson  for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

She said Garden State residents need to be aware of this because " it is the end of the summer, people are getting that last minute road trip in, and the fact is we're not used to pumping our own fuel, so it's something to be very vigilant about if you're traveling out of state."

Noble said if you leave your vehicle, make sure you've got the keys in the car with you, to ensure your belongings are safe inside the car.

"SUV's are even more so of a target because of their size- people pumping gas cannot see over the roofline:10 of the vehicle - and some people who have left their keys inside the vehicle have had their cars stolen, so everyone really needs to be careful."

To safeguard customers at gas stations from falling prey to the distraction theft crime spree, AAA Mid-Atlantic provides the following proactive tips:

  • Don't become a victim during fill-ups. Try to avoid gas stations in isolated areas.
  • Make your personal safety a top priority.
  • Turn off the engine every time and never leave your vehicle unattended.
  • Refuel your tank in view of the filling station attendant.
  • Always stop and shop at the best-lit, best-attended gas station in the area.
  • Stay alert and always be aware of the people around and your immediate surroundings.
  • Never leave your keys in the ignition while filling your vehicle with fuel.
  • Lock your vehicle before purchasing gasoline.
  • Never leave a purse on the seat or personal belongings in plain view while refueling.
  • Place anything of value in your trunk, but watch who might be watching you.
  • Keep your windows rolled up or lock out all window controls while filling your tank.
  • If you spot any suspicious activity, report it to the gas station operator or police.
  • Install an intrusion alarm or a kill-switch to protect your vehicle from being stolen.
  • If you sense danger and you have a panic button on your car keys, keep your hands on the panic button until help arrives.