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    GPS Devices add convenience to our lives, but also could pose a home security threat. (kevygee, Flickr)

    by: Gary Hoffman | AOL Autos
     

    Aside from making driving easier, the on-board electronics revolution has given some people a new direction in their lives. Unfortunately, it could take them right into your bedroom or living room.

    These people are GPS thieves. When they steal your device, they sometimes get more than just an electronics item they can sell for $100 or more on the street. They get your home address.

    With the push of a button, one common navigational feature, the home setting, fully automates the process of directing you to your home -- a convenience that burglars and stalkers are sure to appreciate. It's enough to turn your free-floating anxiety about data theft into full-blown paranoia about home invasion.

    The possibilities seem endless. The units' presence in a vehicle like Lexus or a BMW, for example, could give thieves a clue to a much bigger haul at the owner's home. And if they steal the garage door opener, too, they may be able to get inside the house with ease.

    Two years ago, thieves stole a number of Acura cars from a corporation's garage in Atlanta, and, in three cases, they used the GPS units in the cars to find and then burglarize employees' homes.

    And just last month, two men were accused of a GPS-guided crime spree in Michigan and northern Ohio. They allegedly broke into vehicles parked at shopping centers, stole the units and then burglarized home after home. Police figure the same pair may have been responsible for burglaries in about 20 communities.

    This "take me home" function works in reverse as well, helping police identify the owners of lost or stolen GPS devices. In November, police in New Jersey found a Garmin unit in a small cache of stolen goods. By setting the device to its home setting, they were able to identify the owner and return it.

    But the bottom line is that, at least theoretically, some of your personal information could be available to anyone getting a hold of your navigational device.

    You may be more likely to be audited by the IRS or contract H1N1 than be a victim of burglars guided by GPS. Yet the risks "aren't negligible" either, said Erhan Kartaltepe, associate director of the Institute for Cyber Security of the University of Texas at San Antonio.

    Your home address could join a large mass of information about you that is "out there," available to the public or determined individuals.

    Kartaltepe notes that data isn't usually encrypted on consumer GPS devices. So if thieves break the locking combination -- presuming the driver even bothered to lock it in the first place -- they get access to a home address.

    Software designers can develop applications to provide extra security for the GPS in iPhones and other advanced cell phones, he said. Many single-purpose GPS devices with proprietary software systems may be unsuited to add-on security apps, however.

    Government systems do have encryption, Kartaltepe notes. But it would only become standard on consumer units in the unlikely event of a national GPS data catastrophe involving the loss of millions of pieces of personal information.
Drivers can still reduce the risk with a few simple counter-measures, though.

    "We encourage people to use common sense and take the same precautions that they would with any consumer electronics device," said Jessica Myers, a spokeswoman for Olathe, Kan.-based Garmin International.

    You can take your GPS unit with you or lock it in the trunk or glove compartment when you leave your car. You can also lock the unit down with an anchoring device.

    One company, New York-based Pioneer Lock Corp., has taken its experience with locking devices for desktop computers and has applied it to on-board GPS units. Its StarLock-GPS product hangs onto the unit with a heavy wire cable and a plate glued to it with high-strength adhesive. The lock can be easily released if you want to take the unit with you, said company owner Peter Parsekian.

    If the GPS unit itself has a keyboard locking device, Myers recommends that people use it. Garmin has a feature similar to a keyboard lock on a cell phone, she said.  "With the Garmin Lock, you either insert a specific password or drive to a specific location, which you have preset."  At that location, the unit unlocks and its owner can access its data and functions without additional effort.

    Still, thieves may find it relatively easy to hack their way into a locked unit over several days.

    The best course is to deter the theft in the first place, and the simplest solution is to take your GPS unit with you when you leave your car.

    "You wouldn't leave your cell phone or your digital camera on the seat," Myers said. "A lot of times people forget this." Since their GPS is often mounted with a suction cup on the windshield, they almost regard it as a structural part of the vehicle, she said.

    "One other thing to remember is to remove the mount when you remove the unit from your windshield," she added. Even if it's empty, it "is a sure sign that there is a device in the vehicle, unless you happened to take it with you."

    It's easy for the driver to remove either a dashboard or a windshield mount and place it out of sight. In the case of windshield mounts, the owner should wipe away the telltale smudge left beneath the suction cup.

    It's also a good idea not to enter your address into the "home setting." If thieves break into your car while it is parked at work, they may rightly conclude you're not at home. It would be even worse if your car were parked at an airport while you were vacationing in Cancun.

    If you have a garage-door opener in your car, you may even want to avoid using another address on your street as your home setting. The thieves could steal the door opener along with the GPS, and then drive up and down your street clicking on the device until a door opened. Instead, use a nearby address on a different street.

    The home setting doesn't always point to home. Some drivers input a different address from time to time -- an eventuality sure to confuse any would-be burglars. "I travel a lot and I will often change home to whatever hotel I happen to be at," Myers said "It will get me back to where I want to be, but it's not necessarily my home."

    One interesting selection, of course, would be a police station in your neighborhood. That would at least give any burglars some food for thought. But don't count on the police to track your stolen GPS and then retrieve it. Many GPS devices are receivers, not transmitters, and thus don't send out a signal that can be traced.

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    1 - 20 of 71 Comments
    ftlaudguy9 Sep 21, 2010 2:54 PM
    Since my Lexus has a built-in navigation, how is anyone going to steal it unless they steal the car?
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    stefanmichael825 Mar 11, 2010 10:09 PM
    The "Home" button doesn't need to be programmed right to your front door, Mine is programmed for about .25 miles away. This is close enough to get near-accurate information for mileage and time to destination, yet doesn't give any thief that extra information to find my home. I do not keep my registration or other identifiable information in my car but in my wallet (for my personal car) or hidden in the family car where only my family and I knows about where it is stashed. In that way, if somebody steals my car, it is another tool to make it harder for a thief to get away. If a person who is not authorized to be in my car should get stopped by a police officer and cannot produce the registration, it will set off alarm bells to the officer who will do a more intense investigation. There is nothing a police officer loves more then having a Thief handed to him like a gift! How do I know? Twenty five years an an officer with my car stolen twice and returned within 24 hours each time due to thief stupidity!
    Report This
    mesaaz2003 Feb 11, 2010 4:46 AM
    Your reg/ins only needs to be with in the car when you are. You do have a lic/plate on your car. I am sure the police know all the info they need between that and you VIN # . The only time you need the other things is when YOU are in your car, talking to the nice police man or woman........Oh by the way......My GPS home address is the Police Department; might as well give them a little peek into their future, The only other address I leave in my GPS is for the County Jail. All they need in one little package. I just love to kill with kindness. LOL I delete an address after I use it. It only takes 15-20 sec to put in an address w/most GPS systems. PS: If someone wants to know were you live,work, etc. there are 101 ways to find out that info.
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    basil0290 Dec 29, 2009 12:33 PM
    Last time I checked, my car's registration card said "Must be kept in the vehicle at all times". I've lived and had a car registered in 5 different states, and all had this same requirement. Since I don't have the luxury of driving a company car, my registration has my home address on it. Anyone wanting to find my house badly enough could do so by simply opening the glove compartment while they're stealing my car. By all means, take your GPS with you when you get out of the car but, unless you take your registration with you every time, don't fool yourself into thinking that not programming the home button will keep you anonymous.
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    DevAutos Dec 29, 2009 12:33 PM
    Last time I checked, my car's registration card said "Must be kept in the vehicle at all times". I've lived and had a car registered in 5 different states, and all had this same requirement. Since I don't have the luxury of driving a company car, my registration has my home address on it. Anyone wanting to find my house badly enough could do so by simply opening the glove compartment while they're stealing my car. By all means, take your GPS with you when you get out of the car but, unless you take your registration with you every time, don't fool yourself into thinking that not programming the home button will keep you anonymous.
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    jonat17 Dec 21, 2009 7:40 AM
    Thief's today are clever, and jealously is a disease. You must protect your stuff. There are lots of haters whose parents never taught them right from wrong, sad, but very true and that says a lot about our society today, quite dysfunctional, wouldn't you agree.
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    jmak118 Dec 21, 2009 2:33 AM
    set home location? why
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    mpgarr59 Dec 19, 2009 1:29 PM
    To make it clear for someone who put up a post about the illegality of "drving a car withouth airbags"--it is not illegal to drive a car without airbags----if that car never had them--but if your car does have them--it is illegal to disable them!!!!
    Report This
    stanp78 Dec 19, 2009 1:11 PM
    American Consumers should look into domestic autos now and in the future isnt it about time we start supporting our own products isnt this long over due? Thanks China for finally buying up our american product they understand what quality and performance is. Go Gm, Ford, and Chrysler we have to have faith again in our american product it is coming back with a vengence.
    Report This
    rmstitanicwsl Dec 18, 2009 1:48 PM
    LOL.... If I could afford to I'd buy a decent-looking car and GPS unit just to leave out for someone to steal...... ooooohhhh the entertainment I could have driving some would-be thief crazy! Even better then when me and some friends took a nice-looking clunker and removed the power sterring and all but first gear from the transmission and left it in north St Louis! *ROTFL* Several of my friends have GPS units and every chance I get I re-program the units..... keeps my friends on their toes. Some of them are fellow truck drivers..... I mean hey...... what's wrong with a side trip to Ft MacPherson, Northwest Territory, Canada on the way to the local grocery store.... Or maybe taking the absolute shortest route (mileage-wise) from St Louis, MO to Sacramento, CA in the dead of winter? Hmmmmm.... if only I could win the lottery...........
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    kgreene490 Dec 18, 2009 12:24 PM
    Just because you know where you live doesnt mean you know how to get there from where you are dumbass
    Report This
    bookerann Dec 18, 2009 12:18 PM
    I set the home address in the middle of the park near where I live.
    Report This
    urkiddinmee Dec 18, 2009 11:45 AM
    Once again, if you have to type in your home address into your GPS to find your way home . . . YOU ought not be driving anyway!
    Report This
    gridcorong Dec 18, 2009 11:14 AM
    This is one of the stupidest things I have ever heard in my life. If someone breaks into your car, all they have to do is look at the registration to see where you live. Be sure not to use your cell phone at the gas station because you will blow up. And watch out for that 30 foot python coming out of the toilet.
    Report This
    pd39 Dec 18, 2009 11:06 AM
    My wife finally convinced me to buy a GPS. For the "home location" I put in the address of a gas station about two miles from my home. I don't keep any other addresses on it long term, and don't have ANY personal information on it.
    Report This
    bballjamal Dec 18, 2009 10:55 AM
    This is a bunch of BS. Why would they need your addy? Unless you found a celebs car with a GPS in it, and wanted to see where they lived, this story blows!
    Report This
    heyjude0258 Dec 18, 2009 10:32 AM
    This is exactly why I do NOT leave my insurance and registration in the car! I don't own a GPS but if I did, I'd use the address of a local business; i.e. gas station, supermarket, restaurant as my 'home' address. I really love how Mr. Hoffman warns us all throughout the article to guard ourselves against this cyber bogie man but then he advises us to USE A NEIGHBORS ADDRESS???? Yeah, that's real smart, send the thief to someone else in the neighborhood. Great plan, Mr. Hoffman! Glad I'm not YOUR neighbor!
    Report This
    heetseaker Dec 18, 2009 10:04 AM
    Do we really need someone to tell us this? Are we that stupid? C'mon, do you really not know your own way home???? Maybe you shouldn't be driving at all...
    Report This
    planxan2 Dec 18, 2009 9:42 AM
    This is pure horse manure. The type of snatch-and-grab thief that takes a GPS unit out of a car to hock at a flea market for $20-40 (which is ALL they can count on getting these days) is not going the same type of more advanced thief that does home invasions - and the type that does home invasions do not need a GPS to figure out where to break in. In one city the police tried a sting operation in which they purposely left wallets on park benches with signs of wealth like fake membership in yachting clubs, and photos of the supposed owner driving a Ferrari. Also the access code number to the alarm system and the home address, which was actually the set up with cops inside waiting. They ran this sting for two months with hundreds of such wallets left around town and didn't get a single attempted robbery. They did get most of the wallets back though (turned into their local police station).
    Report This
    shered111 Dec 18, 2009 9:15 AM
    right on markman\ the right to own a gun for protection is one right Obama will never take from me
    Report This
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    Aside from making driving easier, the GPS devices have given some people a new direction in their lives. Unfortunately, it could take them right into your bedroom or living room.
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