What happens to stolen GPS units?
October 5, 2008 7:30 PM Subscribe
What is the eventual disposition of GPS navigation units that get stolen from cars in the United States? Specifically, what about GPS units that are locked with PINs? Details and more specifics inside.
posted by Juffo-Wup to Society & Culture (6 answers total)
A few months ago, my friend was staying at a hotel in a relatively low-crime area. Overnight, someone smashed his car's window and stole his GPS unit which had been left attached to the windshield. This got me wondering about what happens to GPS units and other similar items that get stolen in this manner.
Since this happened in a hotel parking lot in the middle of the night, I doubt that someone who was otherwise going about his or her innocent business saw the GPS sitting there and thought, "Hey! I want one of these but they're expensive, so instead of buying one I'll just steal this one right here!" Given this, I imagine that the thief had something in mind to do with the GPS units (and whatever else) he planned to steal that night. But what might this be?
There are really two classes of stolen GPS units: Those which are locked with a PIN and those which are not. Unlocked units could be sold and used readily, but what about locked units? I searched the Internet (briefly) for methods of unlocking various popular GPSes and didn't find any instructions for doing so, which makes it seem unlikely that the answer is as simple as "open the unit and momentarily short pin 9 on the xyz IC with the test pad labeled w". The GPS units I've seen have long timeouts after entering a pin incorrectly two or three times, so a brute-force approach seems unlikely to succeed.
I thought of pawn shops, but then I read about various laws and practices that are supposed to reduce the ease by which stolen property can be sold at such establishments. I wonder how effective these measures are and what percentage of goods sold through pawn shops are stolen. I also wonder whether the proprietor of a pawn shop would want to see a GPS device turned on and working (which would presumably inhibit the pawning of PIN-protected devices), or whether he would just take it as-is.
I've heard about "fences"; guys who buy stolen property, but I've never heard much about what goes on once they get their hands on these items. Presumably they have contacts to whom they sell things, but eventually they must make their way back into the hands of consumers somehow, right?
With that in mind, I started thinking about where I would go if I wanted to buy a stolen GPS or really any other stolen goods, for that matter. I realize that I am not in close touch with the culture of the criminal underground, but I have spent some time in various lower-income parts of Detroit and I can't say I've seen any open-air electronics markets or lots of people selling things out of the back of trucks. But, perhaps stolen goods are generally sold on a personal-connection basis or in some other manner that would escape the scrutiny of an outsider.
That leaves the possibility of transporting the goods to countries (or regions of the US) where less-formal open-air markets and person-to-person sales are more common. Of course, at a certain point, it might become difficult to sell a GPS unit with a USA base map to a guy in Ecuador but if much of this happens, perhaps the same criminal enterprise that moves the goods re-flashes them with local maps for the destination markets? Also, perhaps such a criminal outfit would have a way to unlock any PIN-locked units that may come into their possession(?)
At any rate, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on what generally happens to stolen items of this sort.