This story was first published on May 9th, 2014
Circulating message warns that thieves are breaking into cars by punching a small hole under the door lock. But, claims the message, instead of stealing all valuable items in the vehicle, they find out the owner’s home address via a GPS or documents left in the car and then later go to the home and burgle it.
Punching a hole near a car’s door lock to gain entry is indeed one method that thieves use to steal valuables from cars or steal the cars themselves. And, theoretically, canny criminals could indeed use the car break-in method described to harvest personal information from documents and devices left in a car and later use it to steal the owner’s identity and find out where the person lives. However, while plausible, the specific ‘house burglary’ scenario described would seem to be a rather convoluted and inefficient method for house thieves to choose suitable targets. Nevertheless, car owners should not leave valuables, including a GPS or important documents in unattended vehicles. And, regularly checking the car’s locks is advice worth heeding.
Hole Under Door Lock
Wednesday, I approached my car from the passenger side to place my computer bag in the front passenger seat.
As I reached to open the door I noticed there was a hole right under my door handle. My first thought was, ‘someone has shot the car !’ I began to think about it and inspect it a little closer and the ‘light’ slowly began to dawn.
I phoned a friend who owns a body shop and asked if he had any vehicles with damage to the doors that looked like a bullet hole. ‘Yes, I see it all the time. Thieves have a punch and place it right under the door handle, knock a hole through, reach in and unlock it, just as if they have a key. No alarms, broken glass, or anything.’
I then placed a call to my insurance agent and explained it to him. I was puzzled that they left my GPS and all other belongings. Here is where it gets scary ! ‘Oh no, he said, they want the break-in to be so subtle that you don’t even realize it. They look at your GPS to see where ‘home’ is. Or check your address from Insurance and Registration documents in your glove box. Now they know what you drive, go to your home, and if your vehicle isn’t there they assume you aren’t, and break into your home.’
He said they will even leave a purse or wallet and only take one or two credit cards. By the time you realize there has been a theft, they may have already had a couple of days or more to use them. (I didn’t realize my situation for two full days!) They even give you the courtesy of re-locking your doors for you.
Periodically, walk around your car, especially after you park in a shopping centre or other large parking area. Report thefts immediately….your bank w/missing check numbers, your credit card agencies, police, and insurance companies, etc.
Below is picture of what the hole looks like.
Hole Under Door Lock
One would have to look pretty darn close to notice a hole like that. If the hole was on the passenger side I would never see it.
This message, which has been circulating via email and social media for several years, describes a method of breaking into cars that involves punching a small hole near the car’s door lock.
According to the message, once thieves have broken into a vehicle in the way described, they may then be able to find out where the car owner lives by accessing the car’s GPS or viewing documents left in the car. The message suggests that car owners may not realize immediately that the vehicle has been broken into because the hole is so small. Thus, warns the message, the criminals may later go to your address and, if your car is not there, they can break in and burgle your house.
The car break-in technique described is certainly real. Thieves can indeed access cars by punching a small hole under or on top of the vehicle’s lock. And, it is also true that victims may not notice straight away that the car has been accessed.
A September 2006 article in Alton, Illinois newspaper The Telegraph discusses a spate of such break-ins, noting:
The unknown sharp object penetrates the door metal, hits the lock mechanism and disengages it. The burglar or burglars slip inside the vehicle without having to break a window or otherwise heavily damage the car, which would call attention to themselves.
Because the damage is minor, the owners may not realize they are victims until they notice items missing from the car or items that were moved. The puncture hole that the intruders leave under the lock, usually on the driver’s-side door, is only up to about a half-inch in diameter.
Another 2006 news article reports:
Cynthia Whittaker was highly surprised to have credit cards stolen and big bills run up with little evidence of the crime.
Halton police agree the way in which the cards were stolen was certainly unusual.
The theft from her Grand Am occurred after Whittaker and her friend took an early evening walk recently at Spencer Smith Park. She discovered the theft after noticing a small drill hole on her vehicle.
‘When you look at the car, you wouldn’t know it was broken into,’ said Whittaker. ‘They opened the car driver’s side and bypassed security completely. The car was still locked, there was no damage to the trunk and they had not cracked the ignition. I thought someone chased them away.’
Thieves also use a similar technique in which the car door lock itself is punched out, although evidence of that method would likely be more quickly noticed.
Furthermore, it is plausible that thieves could use the break-in technique described to access personal information that might later be used to steal the car owner’s identity. Because the break-in may go undetected for a time, victims may not realize that important documents such as car insurance or registration papers have been stolen. In fact, car glove boxes and consoles often act as ‘temporary’ storage for quite a collection of documents, letters, invoices and the like, some of which might be very valuable to potential identity thieves.
A June 2013 NBC Miami news report describes a case in which thieves broke into a man’s car using the hole punch technique but, inexplicably, did not take any of several valuable items left in the car. The owner and police suspected that thieves might have been after documents in the car that could be used for identity theft. The report notes:
Car owner, Hamilton Barbosa noticed the tiny hole above his door lock after he noticed the thieves left his windows down. In the car, he had left an iPod, GPS and a radar detector. He says nothing was taken, but they were clearly after something.
‘Obviously they went through the glove compartment, the trunk, first aid kit. They were looking for something,’ he said.
In the car, like most people, Bardosa leaves his insurance card and vehicle registration. Police say those are vital pieces of information most wouldn’t notice missing.
And, either by examining documents in the car, or accessing a GPS left in the vehicle, criminals could indeed find out where the car owner lives. Thus, theoretically, thieves could go to your home and, if your car was not there, go ahead and break in.
In truth, however, that particular scenario does seem rather unlikely. When you are at home, your car may well be out of site in a garage, so a criminal driving by would not know if your car was there or not. And, even if you were out in the car, other residents of the house might still be at home. Or, in a typical one-car family, you might be at home while another family member is out in the car. Unless criminals are specifically targeting an individual – for example, to collect more information for identity theft purposes – there does not seem to be any particular advantage to using the car break-in method described to choose houses to burgle. Thieves could simply watch a house they deemed suitable for burgling and wait until residents left and the house was quiet. Or the criminals could follow a potential target home, taking note of the car’s make and model. They would then have the same information without needing to risk getting caught breaking into the target’s vehicle.
While the house burglary scenario described in the warning has been put forward as a possibility and must still be considered plausible, I have not seen any credible reports that suggest that such crimes have actually occurred.
In reality, the great majority of car break-ins, regardless of the method used, are motivated by the criminal’s desire to immediately steal valuable items in the car or steal the car itself.
To guard against such thefts, car owners should ensure that valuable items, including removable GPS’s, are not left unattended, even when the car is locked. Documents that identify the owner’s address or may potentially be used for identity theft should not be left in unattended vehicles. And, the advice in the message to periodically walk around your car and check for potential lock tampering is worth heeding.