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A viral alert circulating via email and social media since 2010 warns of a "new" vehicle break-in method wherein thieves punch a small hole under the handle of a car door to unlock it. Do you need to be concerned about this rumor? It's possible.
As shared on Facebook, Jan. 5, 2013:
Wednesday, I approached my truck 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 my truck!"
I began to think about it and inspect it a little closer and the "light" slowly began to come on.
I phoned my 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 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 center or other large parking area.
Report thefts immediately… your bank w/missing check numbers, your credit card agencies, police, and insurance companies, etc.
While we have no way of verifying the specifics of this anecdotal account, the "hole punch" method it describes is known to police and indeed sometimes used in the commission of auto burglaries. Apparently, it works quite well. In a spate of roughly four dozen break-ins reported in Alton, Illinois over a two-month period in 2009, for example, police said at least half involved the use of "a sharp tool to deftly punch through car doors, just under their locks to release them," according to a local newspaper, The Telegraph. The report continues:
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.
However, while the hole punch technique is referenced in a number of news stories published between 1990 and the present, there were many more instances cited in which cars were burgled the old-fashioned way - by smashing a window.
Protect Yourself From a Break-in
Regardless of the method of entry used, precautionary measures available to vehicle owners remain the same: Install a car alarm, avoid parking in dimly lit, isolated places, and never leave valuables (including GPS devices) in plain sight.
Sources and Further Reading
- Cars Burglarized with New Technique. The Telegraph (Alton, IL), 19 October 2009
- Thieves Stand Ready to Pounce in Mere Minutes. St. Petersburg Times, 18 July 2010