Fact Check

Hole Punch Car Robbery

Crime alert warns that thieves drill a hole under a vehicle's door handle, break in, steal only one item, then use the auto's GPS to locate the car owner's home for future burglary.

Published March 19, 2010


Claim:   Thieves drill hole under vehicle's door handle, break in, steal only one item, then use auto's GPS to locate car owner's home for future burglary.


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, February 2010]

I drove myself and two co-workers to lunch Monday, 2/15/10. I chose a parking spot in the rear of the lot and backed into a space (no pull through available at location). This positioned my Chevy Avalanche with the passenger side doors facing away from the rest of the lot and to the end of the lot. I had a Sony digital camera lying on the console of my truck.. Upon returning from lunch and entering the vehicle we noticed nothing wrong or missing from the vehicle.

Tuesday around lunch time I needed the camera and could not locate it. My first thoughts were, "I moved it or it fell to the floor mat or I removed it from my truck." After searching feverishly for two days, questioning anyone who had been close to my truck, and exhausting every possible location I could have put it, I began to have that sinking feeling I lost it or someone stole it. My new Garmin GPS had been in the truck the whole time, so I felt as if someone had entered my vehicle they would have taken it also.

Fast forward to Wednesday, I approached my truck from the passenger side to place my computer bag (aka my man purse) 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, who is also a friend, and explained it to him. I proceeded to tell him the situation and how 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.

Now they know what you drive, go to your home, and if your vehicle isn't there they assume you aren't and break in your home. He says 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 days or more to use them. This is another reason they want the break-in to go unnoticed. I didn't realize my situation for two full days! They even give you the courtesy of re-locking your doors for you. I guess they don't want it to be broken into by other thieves! Had they found your check book, they could have taken checks from the middle section so they wouldn't be noticed.

Please remove from your GPS unit your home address as "home" ASAP! Put in your local Wal-Mart address or somewhere else! Park your vehicle in a highly visible place. I positioned mine perfectly for them and didn't realize it until it was too late. I hope this is beneficial to you and helps you keep your valuables in your possession and your vehicle from damage. Most importantly, it may keep the thieves from showing up at your home!

DO NOT LEAVE VALUABLES IN SIGHT INSIDE THE CAR. Periodically walk around your car, daily if you are in a shopping center or other parking area. Report thefts immediately.... Bank w/missing check numbers, Credit card agencies, Police, and Insurance Companies.

Hole punched under door handle  

Origins:   The account given above about car door-drilling thieves began circulating in e-mail in February 2010, variously titled "Subtle Car Break-in" or "Smart Thieves."

While we've yet to locate the author of the piece, there's little reason to doubt that car break-ins can be effected by punching or drilling a hole just beneath the vehicle's door lock, then manipulating the lock mechanism via that clandestine entrance. Although this mode of breaking into a car is not all that favored by your basic car thieves or contents riflers (it does require drilling or punching a hole, then manually working the lock through that opening, after all), it can and does happen. Auto thieves have been using this method for years.

In one particular case of note from 1999, the car belonging to Larry Delgado, then mayor of Santa Fe, New Mexico, was accessed this way. The thief made off with Mrs. Delgado's purse, which she had hidden under the front seat. Damage to the mayor's vehicle was estimated at $500.

In December 2009, R&B star Usher lost more than $1 million in jewelry, furs, designer luggage, and computer and camera gear when someone helped himself to those items from the R&B star's SUV. Said the investigating officer of how the break-in was effected, someone "popped a small hole on the bottom right corner of the door handle and entered the vehicle."

However, that cars have successfully been broken into by this method doesn't make the second claim of the e-mailed account true, that clever thieves are taking only one or two pieces of booty rather than cleaning out the

vehicle, in hopes of convincing car owners they've merely mislaid their wayward items, rather than been victims of crime. Thieves
aren't so altruistic that they'll forego taking everything of value when they've the chance to do so. Moreover, the purported reason for their making off with some items but sparing others is flawed — while there have been burglaries of homes carried out by robbers that obtained addresses from GPS units of cars they'd broken into, those burglaries occurred right away, not days later. Why would thieves wait a couple of days, then do constant drive-bys to see if the potential victim's car was parked in front of the home they've targeted, when at the moment of the vehicle break-in they know its driver won't be guarding the homefront from potential burglars? (They're in his car, after all, which he'd parked in a public lot. Which means its driver is somewhere in the vicinity of the car rather than at home manning the battlements of his domicile.)

Real incidents or not, the fear that robbers will use their victim's global positioning systems to gain their home addresses is likely exaggerated. Robbers typically favor low-tech solutions over high-tech ones, and it's far simpler to rifle a car's glove compartment for bills or documents bearing the vehicle owner's information than it is to fiddle with (unfamiliar) electronic devices. Moreover, while only some cars have dash-mounted GPS units at this time, nearly all vehicles have at least one or two easily accessible items bearing the car owner's address.

Also, such a "This could happen to you!" warning grinds against the same rock that sinks other cautionary tales of this ilk (such as the legend about the promise of the return of stolen handbags used to lure gals from their homes to set up burglaries): the presumption that a certain house necessarily stands empty if one resident is known not to be there. A potential burglar basing his decision to break in solely on whether a particular car is missing from that home's driveway would have no way of knowing that there weren't various other folks in the house, or even an ill-tempered, sharp-toothed dog or three.

The e-mailed account concludes with an accumulation of very good items of advice. Don't leave valuable goods on display in your car. If you must leave items such as cameras, laptops, purses, and electronic book readers in your jalopy, at least hide them out of sight by placing them in the trunk or under a seat. (Which, if you remember the story of Mayor Delgado's wife's purse, won't always safeguard them either.) If you're using a GPS that's habitually left in your vehicle, don't label your home address as "Home" in its database, but rather call it something else. Remember that break-in artists prefer to work where people won't have an easy view of what they're up to, and strive to park in the more trafficked portions of a car lot rather than on its edges where a thief could ply his trade relatively undisturbed.

Barbara "disturbing his peace" Mikkelson

Last updated:   14 December 2015


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    2 July 2003.

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