By Damien Zubatov, CEO & Founder, Flash Capital
So much of our life these days is wrapped up with our smartphones that if they’re lost or stolen, our personal information and data is at risk of being misused, or worse. These days, our phones are an extension of ourselves, and the worry and stress associated with losing them is quite real for many of us.
In our ultra-connected world, however, our smartphone isn’t the only device we should be concerned about. Another easy way for someone to access personal data is through your car. Do you realize how much personal information you leave in your car? Aside from the typical documents that trade-ins and used cars typically contain, such as old registration or insurance papers with your name and address, I’ve also found paystubs showing Social Security numbers, and more.
The risk doesn’t stop there, though. Inside cars, thieves can find housekeys and address books, devices that remotely open garage doors, personal data in the navigation system, and a Bluetooth connection that syncs to all of the owner’s contacts. Vehicle-centric digital devices are all great and make our lives easier, but how many of us clear all of that once the lease is up and it’s time to return the car? Probably less than five percent.
I know this because I’ve been in the automotive industry for more than 20 years. I’ve done and seen it all by now, everything from repairing vehicles to financing, selling, and now, remarketing. Pretty much every car my remarketing company ever gets with a navigation system is guaranteed to direct us to the previous driver’s house and to be equipped with a button that will unlock the garage. So, don’t be surprised to find me sitting in your kitchen waiting for dinner. Now that’s a scary thought, isn’t it? If your phone was connected, you likely synced your contacts, which are now mine as well.
So, what can you do to protect yourself? Here are the tips we at Flash Capital we pass on to our customers:
• Before selling, trading in, or returning your lease or fleet vehicle, do a full sweep, which means removing everything from the car that contains any personal information.
• If you have a Homelink garage door opening system in the vehicle, which most cars do, just hold the 2 outside buttons which are usually 1 and 3 until the little light starts flashing fast, indicating that the memory has been wiped clean.
• In navigation systems, if you access your previous destinations, there is usually an option right there to delete them. Some vehicles even have an option to remove all data in one step.
• With Bluetooth, there is usually an option to unpair, and that’s all you have to do. If you have a difficult time doing any of this, YouTube has videos on practically any car.
• And take careful note: disconnecting the battery for a few minutes will not erase the memory of newer vehicles.
As vehicles get more advanced and more connected, these issues may get easier to handle. A quick reset button or function that can remove everything in one simple step would be helpful. Something like valet mode for your data would be great as well so that when you drop your vehicle off at a valet or repair shop, you can lock all of your information just like you can your glovebox. These shouldn’t be difficult to develop, but because the personal data in your car is hardly ever mentioned, these issues seem to fly under the radar as well.
Meanwhile, fleets should make sure that they alert their drivers about the risks returning vehicles without taking all precautions to wipe them clean of digitized personal information.