Two More Crafty Ways to Steal From You - GPS Units and Cell Phones.

Photo: D'Arcy Norman

I got another one of those emails recently, from my mother-in-law this time. As usual, I began reading with skepticism and was ready to take it all with another monstrous grain of salt. But as I continued reading, I realized the information actually seemed plausible. So I checked it out at Snopes and found truth behind the stories.

The Chinese Whisper effect has done its job on these stories, adding embellishments and hyperbole. But the base facts mentioned here are very real, and these methods could easily be used to clean you out.

Method One – GPS and a Garage Door Opener. (Snopes reference)
The basic premise is this. You’re parked at an event where the criminal knows you will be inside for some time, like a concert or sporting event. He or she will then scour the parking lot for cars with GPS devices and garage door openers, which is a vast number of the population and rising.

The thief takes the GPS and garage door opener, hops into their own car or truck, and then used the GPS device to guide the car “home” which is the first address anyone with a GPS will program into the device.

Once at your house, the thieves have access via the garage door opener, and they know they plenty of time to  ransack your home and get away before you get to your car and drive home. Some people don’t even notice the devices are gone until they go to open the garage door.

What can you do to stay safe?
First, if you have a dashboard-mounted GPS device, put it out of plain sight once you arrive at your destination. Most come with a carry-case and are small enough to take with you, or you could hide it somewhere in the car.

Second, don’t program your home address into the “home” button. It’s easy enough to find your home address from a list of recent places, but the thieves won’t know that. All they will see are a long list of addresses and any one of them could be yours.

Third, put your garage door opener in an unexpected place. The first place thieves will look is on the visor. If they have to hunt around for both your GPS and your opener, they’ll no doubt give up very quickly and move onto the next car.

Method Two – The Cell Phone Scam (Snopes reference)
The story goes that a woman’s handbag was stolen, and her cell phone was one the of many personal items inside, along with credit cards, debit cards and so on. About 20 minutes after the handbag is stolen, she calls her husband from a payphone to tell him what has happened, and he tells her “I got your text asking for our PIN number, I just replied to it.”

When they checked their bank accounts, a chunk of money had been withdrawn using the stolen card. What had happened was the thief had texted her husband, labeled on the phone as “hubby” or “sweetheart” and asked for the information.
If you received a text from your significant other, you probably wouldn’t think twice about it, and reply with the 4-digit PIN. Maybe you’d call, but texting is so easy and convenient these days.

What can you do to stay safe?
First, try not to use pet names or other words that would disclose your relationship to that person. In particular, avoid common phrases like Home, Honey, Hubby, Wifey, Sweetheart, Dad, Mom, Boyfriend, Girlfriend, and so on. These are the first names that the phone thieves will go to.

Second, never reveal ANY personal info over a text message. If you get such a request, call and confirm if you can. I know it’s a lot easier to text in a busy meeting rather than leave the room to take a call, but do what you can. You can always ask a question only your significant other would know the answer to, just for verification, if you only have the option to text.

Third, if anyone ever asks to meet you somewhere via text message, make sure you call back to verify it’s the real person. Far worse than someone trying to take your money would be someone trying to harm you. Remember, phones carry photos and videos, thieves could see a pretty girl and attempt to set up a meeting via text message.

As always, keep your wits about you everyone. Stay safe.

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Guest's picture

I completely agree with #2 - until reading this, I would have replied in a heartbeat. What a scary thought.

On a similar tangent, one thing I never try to do is leave my keys and wallet in the car at the same time. If for some reason, I need to leave one there, it's usually my set of keys. A thief that will steal the car can look up my address on my license and open my door with my keys before I even realize what's happened. Without either the keys or the wallet being stolen, at least I have some time to react and protect myself.

Guest's picture

Great post. It is true that technology helps us out in our daily lives, but it can also give us a headache; GPS and garage door opener is something I did not think about before.

Guest's picture

Pet names won't make any difference when they can look at your call log to see who you've called recently or just text everyone in your phone.

Guest's picture

After reading this post I actually changed a few 'pet' names in my phone back to first names.

Guest's picture
Hijo Del Sol

FYI.. Most new GPS units have the ability to lock them. My Garmin requires a pin or for me to be parked in my driveway to unlock it.

Still hide it, but lock it as well.

Guest's picture

Add LOCK YOUR CAR to the list of things to do. Really motivated thieves will still break in but it ups the game. They have to take the time to pop locks or break windows and both call attention and take time. Someone just opening a car door and getting in does not.

Guest's picture

My wife and I don't know each other's PIN's, so #2 isn't really an issue. As for the GPS, I have learnt the hardway that leaving it out of sight is not enough - it needs to be removed from the car if you want it to be safe.

Guest's picture

Interesting post.

Crooks are clever people.

As for the GPS, I keep mine low, below the radio-- why advertise? As for home programmed in-- if they are in your car the glovebox will give them your home address (insurance and registration).

Paul Michael's picture

Probably best to just take the whole GPS unit with you.

Guest's picture

My friend recently told me that theives look for the marks on windshields that are left by GPS, radar detectors, etc. They are the little round marks that the suction cups leave..
If they see that, they are pretty sure there is a GPS or radar detector hidden in the car. I guess you should just throw it in your purse or briefcase to be safe!

The scammers and rip-offs will ALWAYS find ways to take items which do not belong to them.. sad.

Guest's picture

I disagree with the cell phone fix. I want someone to be able to find my spouse if I have an accident and can't use my phone. My spouse and I keep separate PINs for our cash cards. We never use PINs on our credit cards.

Guest's picture

Have an electrician wire your garage door opener to only work with the garage light being turned on first. That way the garage door is absolutely dead and wont work until light is turned on inside the garage. You also can get a device to turn on your garage light with your cell phone. That way you call the device to turn on the light inside your garage then use the garage door opener when you get home!