Published: Oct 06, 2011 3:15 PM EDT

COLLIER COUNTY, Fla.- The Collier County Sheriff's Office is offering security advice to vehicle owners following recent thefts of catalytic converters

Deputies are investigating the reported thefts of six catalytic converters from sport utility vehicles parked outside of several businesses in North Naples on October 1st.

A catalytic converter is part of a vehicle's exhaust system that thieves are taking to sell as scrap metal, mirroring a growing national trend.

This past spring thieves swiped more than two dozen catalytic converters from SUVs parked at two separate East Naples automobile dealerships. The most recent thefts occurred to single vehicles parked at restaurants and retail stores in the Naples Boulevard area. Most of the single vehicles were older model Toyota 4 Runners.

Catalytic converters are designed to reduce carbon emissions in the environment. The device may seem like an odd thing to steal. However, it's not the component that is so valuable. Catalytic converters are partly composed of platinum, a metal more valuable than gold. When the platinum is extracted, it can be worth hundreds of dollars. A new one can cost well over $1,000 replace. Petty thieves don't receive most of these profits, however. They are usually paid between $40 and $50 at a scrap yard for each converter. Metal smiths who use advanced tools and processes to extract the platinum can then sell it at a much higher value.

The converter is attached to a vehicle's undercarriage with a few simple bolts. It takes between 60 and 90 seconds for a thief to slide beneath a vehicle with a socket wrench, unscrew the bolts holding the converter in place, detach the component and walk away.

Trucks and SUVs are popular targets, as thieves have quicker and easier access to the converters because of the vehicle's proximity from the ground.

You don't need to crawl underneath your car to know if your catalytic converter has been stolen. You should be able to tell as soon as you start your vehicle. If you suddenly notice a loud, continuous noise that sounds like your muffler has fallen off, it's likely you've been a victim of catalytic converter theft.

CCSO urges vehicle owners to take the following initiatives to avoid catalytic converter theft:

* Have the converter welded onto your car. To prevent thieves from stealing your catalytic converter, you could have your mechanic weld it on. The main drawback is that, should you ever need to have it repaired or replaced, it will be more difficult to remove and possibly cost more for labor.

* Park strategically. When out running errands, park in well-lit areas close to the entry to a business. If you park in your driveway, consider installing a motion spotlight over your vehicle.

* Invest in a lock. Invest in a specially devised lock that secures your converter, and you could save yourself time and money in the long run. A few versions exist and can cost anywhere from $100 to $150. Many come with a warranty against theft as well.

To prevent becoming a victim, and to help deputies catch thieves, contact the Collier County Sheriff's Office if you notice anything unusual, especially in parking lots, at 239.252.9300.