Having your auto stolen is bad enough, but with today's tech-heavy, smart data-connected vehicles, losing key personal data from a stolen vehicle is the capper on the jug.
In that regard, technology can be both a big help and a big hindrance when it comes to stolen vehicles.
On the positive side of the ledger, technology-based security in the form of advance auto alarms, video camera apps and smart keys make it much more difficult for auto thieves to ply their trade. (That's a big reason why auto theft incidents are down 35% from 2007 through 2016, according to the Insurance Information Institute.)
On the downside, today's armada of four-wheel vehicles are increasingly chock full of personal information -- think GPS navigation systems and mobile phone connectivity systems.
It's not all about blaming technology for data lost in a car theft. Savvy auto grifters can also use your auto registration documentation, which most people keep in their vehicles, to take your name and address to commit data theft. Or, thieves use the data in your registration (or from the VIN number on your car or truck's windshield) to apply for fraudulent license plates in your name -- plates that can be used to install on other stolen vehicles.
Make no mistake, auto thieves will take whatever they can get from an auto theft, and it's up to you to take direct action stops from minimizing both the actual vehicle theft, and any personal data potentially lost in a theft incident.
Take these steps to prevent that from happening:
Secure your data "valuables" -- "Park only in secure or well-lighted areas," says Mike Arman, an insurance specialist in City of Oak, Fla. "Also, don't leave attractive devices in the car -- cell phones, GPS, laptops, radar detectors -- basically anything that's easily portable and resalable."
Keep the vehicle as clean (and empty) as possible -- Keep the inside clean and empty as much as possible, and don't make your car a tempting target, Arman says. "The idea is to plant this thought into a car thieves head: "There's nothing to see or steal here, so I'll look somewhere else," he notes.
Go the "two factor" route -- The worst-case scenario in an auto-theft incident is to have both your vehicle and smartphone stolen, says Samuel Norris, a digital security researcher and manager of the Digital Security World blog. "The amount of personal information being stored digitally on these devices would give any thief the means to commit identity theft or credit card fraud," he explains. "The best way to prevent a potential thief from accessing your smartphone is by using two-factor authentication." By requiring both a passcode and a biometric scan (such as a fingerprint) to enter your phone, you'll know that your information is secure, "even while in the hands of a thief," Norris states.
Check with your GPS provider on theft protection -- The most obvious piece of personal information for auto thieves to get is your home address, simply by hitting "take me home" on your GPS, says Scott W. Johnson, owner of WholeVsTermLifeInsurance.com, in Mill Valley, Calif. "Some GPS systems also have phone and calendar information that provide a thief your driving history" he says. That's why it's worth contacting your GPS manufacturer to check on better ways to secure your system, and your personal identity.
No browsing using connected smart car systems -- Don't browse the web from your vehicle, warns Art Dahnert, managing consultant and security specialist at Synopsys, in Austin, Tex. "That will prevent a thief from accessing the history as well as any cookies or credential information," he says. "However, if you do, clear the cache frequently to prevent that information from accumulating."
Securing your personal data that's in your car or truck can take some of the sting out of an auto-theft scenario. Use the tips above to keep prying fingers -- and prying eyes -- from your vehicle.
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