Last December, an Acura executive fleet vehicle was stolen from a Fortune 500 corporate parking garage in Atlanta. In addition to stealing the vehicle, the thieves retrieved the “home location” information stored in the in-dash GPS system, which the exec had previously programmed into the system. Using the GPS data, the same thieves burglarized the exec’s home several days later - gaining access by using the garage door opener in the car. This is a true story.
In fact, the Atlanta police reported that during this same timeframe, a half-dozen Acuras were stolen with three of the thefts including subsequent home intrusions.
GPS-related home burglaries are not restricted to the U.S. In another incident that occurred in the United Kingdom, a GPS device was stolen from a fleet vehicle parked at a theme park. As reported by Fleet News, a UK-based fleet magazine, the thief retrieved the directions to the owner’s home stored in the GPS system and stole a £20,000 (USD $41,000) Saab convertible.
Many drivers routinely input their home addresses as a “home base” into a GPS device. As seen, this is a risky practice. If a vehicle with an onboard GPS or a portable GPS device is stolen, the thief gains access to your home address. Thieves can, and, as in the five incidents related above, do use this information to burglarize the vehicle owner’s home.
In the event a GPS device, or your vehicle with onboard GPS, is stolen, safeguard your home by not entering your correct home address in the My Home Location. Some erroneously believe they can thwart would-be thieves by simply entering their street name or nearby street with no house number. However, if a thief has your vehicle, he or she most likely also has your garage door opener. If they know the street you live on, they can simply cruise it, pressing the garage door opener before each home to see which garage door opens. The best suggestion is to use the address of a nearby public building, laundry mat, retail store, or supermarket.
As an aside, conceal your insurance and registration documents in a nontraditional spot (not the glove compartment) since they too can provide a thief with your home address.
GPS Device is No. 1 Theft Item from Vehicles
Law enforcement around the country (and internationally) are reporting a rise in the theft of GPS devices. These devices are portable and, because of their small size, easily concealed. GPS units can cost from $180 to more than $1,000. Thieves can fence stolen GPS units on the street for about $150 or fraudulently re-sell them on an online auction. For drug addicts, common smash-and-grab perpetrators, electronic devices generate quick cash.
In yesteryear, cars were broken into to steal a cassette players, radios, or CD players, (and still are), but today, GPS devices are high on the list of coveted items. In fact, GPS devices are now the number one item stolen from motor vehicles. Thieves have targeted GPS devices because of their small size and ease with which they can be re-sold in the underground economy.
Tips to Thwart Portable GPS Theft
It takes only seconds to break a vehicle window, and experienced smash-and-grab thieves aren’t fazed by blaring security alarms. Sometimes drivers inadvertently advertise the presence of a GPS device by leaving it turned on, which, at night makes it highly visible and an inviting target for a quick smash-and-grab.
Conventional wisdom says to hide valuables in the vehicle trunk. However, with all vehicles equipped with an interior trunk pop lever, once the thieves are inside the vehicle, they gain access to the trunk and its contents. Likewise, don’t hide valuables in obvious places, such as the glove compartment or under one of the front seats, since these are the first areas searched by thieves.
The best precaution is to take the portable GPS device with you when leaving a car parked and unattended. If this isn’t feasible, remove all telltale signs that you have the device. Conceal the mounting arms and any other accessories such as car chargers, headsets, or audio leads. Opportunist thieves look for these tip-offs. An empty suction-cup windshield mount usually means a GPS device is hidden somewhere in the vehicle. Even taking the extra step of removing the windshield mount may not be sufficient, as the tell-tale residual mark of the suction cup smudge on the windshield is enough to tip off would-be thieves. Before leaving your vehicle, wipe off the suction cup smudge from the windshield or dash with a handkerchief.
The Important Take-Away
If there is a lesson to be gleaned from this editorial, it is to not store your home address in a portable or onboard vehicle GPS system. Consider this nightmare scenario. If your vehicle is stolen from an airport garage while you’re out of town, the thieves assume there is no one home, which is not always the case.
Let me know what you think.