Car burglars targeting GPS street navigators

December 10, 2010

By Leanora Minai

Yunze Chen, a junior at Duke, was awakened early Thursday by a phone call from a police officer.

The news: the driver’s window of his Toyota Camry was shattered, and Chen soon learned his Garmin street navigator was missing.

He stashed the GPS device inside his car console but left the mount on the windshield – a clue for would-be thieves. Friends and police had warned him to stow anything related to the GPS to prevent a theft.

“But I didn’t pay much attention,” Chen said Thursday. “Obviously, it happens.”

From mid-November through Dec. 9, 10 vehicles have been broken into on campus, and six GPS devices have been stolen, slight increases compared to the same period last year, according to the Duke University Police Department. The locations of the recent break-ins are scattered across campus but most occurred on Central and East campuses.

With the holiday season in full swing, police officers are encouraging Duke community members to practice safety precautions such as removing items of value from vehicles.

Duke police Lt. Greg Stotsenberg said crooks scouting to break in cars want something quick and easy. “So they’re going from car to car looking in the windows for items left out in plain view,” Stotsenberg said.

A GPS adaptor or mount in plain view will draw attention, he said. That also goes for holiday packages, backpacks, laptops and purses – anything that appears of value.

“If they don’t see anything in the car, they’ll most likely move on to the next car,” Stotsenberg said.

Stotsenberg suggested recording serial numbers of GPS devices and other electronics to help with recovery, if stolen. He also urged GPS owners to be mindful of how they label “home” addresses in a GPS to prevent that information from falling into the wrong hands. In one reported case at Duke, police are investigating whether information gleaned from a stolen GPS may have led to a home burglary. Instead of plugging a home address in the gadget, GPS owners should consider using the address of a landmark near home like a store.

Chen said he hopes the community learns a valuable lesson from his situation.

“Just put everything about your GPS invisible from sight,” he said. “Not just the GPS but the mount. If they know the GPS is inside, it doesn’t matter. They’ll try to find it.”