Identity fraud continues to rise: 2016 saw 15.4 million victims of the crime, and 2017 saw nearly one million more than that. As technology advances, fraudsters are changing their tactics to more easily take advantage of unassuming Americans. The latest trend? Accessing personal information through synced infotainment systems in rental cars.
Infotainment systems allow smartphones to be synced to vehicles so drivers and passengers can listen to music, see GPS routes — pretty much anything that will make their ride more enjoyable. While this luxury is nice to have in personal vehicles, some people forget that hooking your phone up to a rental car that dozens of strangers will have access to is not necessarily the best idea. Personally identifiable information (PII) can be taken from the sync, and can lead to identity theft and credit card fraud with relative ease.
“Drivers need to be prudent about their personal info; this goes beyond identity theft into the realm of personal safety,” warns Ken Grant, manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Every car system is different, and prior to syncing a device to a vehicle motorists need to be aware of the risks.”
As Grant points out, the data stored on your phone can be more than just financially harmful: many people rely on smart systems in their homes to control garage doors, alarms, even lights and temperatures. If you trade in your car, sync your phone to a rental car, or hand your keys to a valet, you are potentially putting yourself and your home at risk.
We know how life can be; the average American drives 29.2 miles every day, usually to and from work, so sometimes it can be easy to forgo danger in favor of convenience. You don’t need to deny yourself music or GPS mapping on your trip, you simply need to be more aware of it.
“Most people return [their] rental car at the last moment, when they’re already in a hurry,” says Collin Ikim of Magrenta, a Romanian car rental company. “You should give yourself time to remove the personal data stored in the car. It’s a matter of minutes.”
In the same vein, AAA recommends that you familiarize yourself with the information that your phone does and is capable of storing: check your phone’s permissions and restrict certain settings if you’re unsure of their safety. Instead of blindly handing over your keys to a valet, check to see if your car has a Valet Mode that will protect your sensitive data. And, as Ikim stresses, take the time to wipe your rental car’s stored information before turning it in.