This Simple Technology Could Help Burglars Find Tech in Your Car

If you want to avoid a broken window, try turning off Bluetooth

Dark parking garage blue tooth scanner
If you're leaving your smartphone, laptop or other valuable personal tech in your parked car, make sure to do this one thing.
NeONBRAND/Unsplash
By Alex Lauer / November 21, 2019 1:39 pm

Car burglaries are not uncommon. There’s a good chance you know someone (or someone who knows someone) who has woken up to a smashed window, especially if you live in a larger city and rely on street parking. But how do thieves choose which cars to pilfer?

New reporting from Wired finds that Bluetooth scanners are being used by some criminals to target cars with expensive technology, like smartphones and laptops, even if the items are hidden. In other words, if your iPhone is on and emitting a Bluetooth signal, a burglar may be able to detect it using something as simple as an app and might zero in on your car. 

“Right now we do know that thieves are utilizing them,” Monic Rueda, a crime prevention specialist at the San Jose Police Department in California, told Wired. This official confirmation runs contrary to the idea that Bluetooth scanners are an urban myth. 

To better understand how exactly it works, Wired lays it out like this:

“You can easily install a Bluetooth scanner app; it uses your smartphone’s own internal Bluetooth sensors to find nearby signals. They not only list everything they find, but provide details like what type of device they’re picking up, whether that device is currently paired to another over Bluetooth, and how close the listed devices are within a few meters.”

The obvious antidote to this tactic is to never leave valuable technology in your car. But we’ve all been told since getting our driver’s licenses to never leave anything of value in our vehicles, and of course we still do because we’re not perfect. So if you do leave your computer (handheld or otherwise) in the glove compartment, under a coat or in the trunk, the best course of action is to either turn the device off or turn off the Bluetooth functionality so it can’t be detected.

Although it should be said that Bluetooth scanners aren’t an epidemic, and most car bandits are more likely to wield a blunt object than an app. Wired even quotes car security researcher Tim Strazzere who posits that taking the time to scan for items gets in the way of the criminal mantra: “Save the time, go fast, grab everything.” But it takes seconds to disable Bluetooth, so as I always say: better safe than forced to drop another grand at the Apple Store.

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