WASHINGTON, D.C. – More than 75,000 airbags are stolen every year, costing insurers and vehicle owners more than $50 million annually, said Frank Scafidi, spokesman for the National Insurance Crime Bureau. An online auction search showed 28 pages of airbags, costing from $16 for one to $400 for a set. Stolen airbags are often reused by auto parts shops, reported the Washington Post newspaper.

"We are seeing it more and more, all around the country. It is not an isolated thing in certain areas or cities," said Scafidi. "It goes back into the early '90s. If you are going to break into a car, why screw around with a radio when you can get an airbag?"

Airbags, which retail for an average of $1,000, can sell for about $200 on the black market, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Unactivated airbags, the size of two decks of playing cards, can be quickly stolen from the steering wheel or dashboard, said Scafidi.

In the Washington, D.C. area, most of the airbag theft occurred last fall in Silver Spring and Bethesda, Md., said Derek Baliles, spokesman for the Montgomery County Police Department. About a dozen airbags were stolen the night of Nov. 11 in Bethesda, police said.

In Howard County, about three-dozen airbags have been stolen from cars in the middle of the night since September. Thieves have been hitting residential areas in north Laurel, Columbia, and parts of Elkridge, said Howard police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn. Stereos and cash were also stolen from some vehicles, reported the Washington Post.

Scafidi said manufacturers are working to put tracking or identification numbers on the bags to make them less attractive to thieves.