Lost and Found

10/7/2013

Every 43 seconds, a motor vehicle is stolen in the United States. In that same amount of time, a child has gone missing. In other words, by the time it takes for your coffee order to be up, someone is frantically searching for something a lot more valuable than exact change.

Indeed, losing track of something valuable—or, in the case of a loved one, invaluable—is a very real possibility. In 2012, the FBI’s, www.fbi.gov, National Crime Information Center recorded 661,593 missing person cases. In 2011 (the most recent statistics available), there were an estimated 715,373 motor vehicle thefts in the United States. These numbers don’t even take into account the other 9 million property theft and robbery crimes the Dept. of Justice, www.justice.gov, says were committed in the same year.

While some may leave the possibility of becoming one of these statistics to chance, others are taking a more proactive approach by using M2M technology to track their most priceless assets. From cellular-based anti-theft systems in cars to GPS devices strapped to mountain climbers, M2M has become an important tool for individuals, companies, and even law enforcement officials trying to find what was once lost and, more importantly, bring it back safe and sound.


One of the more costly asset losses for both consumers and companies is a stolen vehicle. The FBI estimates more than $4.3 billion was lost nationwide to motor vehicle thefts in 2011. The average dollar loss per stolen vehicle was $6,089, which could include costs such as paying the insurance deductable, insurance premium increases, rental vehicle fees, replacement of personal items not covered by insurance, as well as lost work hours and overall productivity losses.

While the FBI doesn’t publish recovery rates, it did report only 12% of the motor theft crimes in 2011 led to an arrest—not very encouraging odds for those seeking justice. However, there is some good news: The total number of vehicle thefts is down 42.6% compared to 10 years ago, according to the most recent statistics. Even more encouraging is that 35% of that decrease has been in the last five years.

Why the big drop? Most industry experts agree much of it can be attributed to improved anti-theft technologies. A far cry from the nostalgic red “Club” steering wheel devices of early 1990s, today’s anti-theft systems use a broad range of M2M technologies to identify vehicle status and location with much success. Canton, Mass.-based LoJack Corp., www.lojack.com, which offers an anti-theft system that uses RF (radio frequency) technology, reports a vehicle recovery rate of 90%—an impressive number for a company that has been around for 25 years. The industry veteran reports, in 2012 alone, law enforcement officials recovered nearly $125 million in stolen vehicles that were installed with a LoJack device.

While not so much a household name as LoJack, Inilex Inc., www.inilex.com, is doing some pretty innovative things too. The company, which offers a combined cellular and GPS vehicle tracking device, has boasted a 100% recovery rate for the last three years. “So far, we’ve been very fortunate to be able to track and recover every single car we’ve been alerted to,” confirms Mike Maledon, president and CEO of the Phoenix, Ariz.-based telematics company. While Maledon admits that it will be difficult for his company to maintain its perfect score forever, it is clear that regardless of the system, the chances of recovery are substantially increased when a vehicle has a tracking device. In fact, Maledon claims the chances of recovery drop to 44% when a car isn’t equipped with a tracking device.

In one instance, Inilex’s Skylink device was able to help a Phoenix man recover his stolen vehicle on Christmas Eve, even after local police told him they were short staffed and to call back after the holiday. However, once the police discovered the vehicle was equipped with Skylink, they considered it a priority call and located the man’s car just 15 minutes later. “It just goes to show you that if you don’t have an active way to track the vehicle, the police aren’t really going to expend much effort to be able to track it down,” Maledon says. “But if you have a live link, they will be able to go and get it.”

The Skylink device, which is hardwired to the vehicle’s electronics system, can provide location coordinates using an integrated SIM card and GPS module. When a car is reported stolen, Inilex works directly with the police to activate the system and locate the car. “It is passing back GPS coordinates over the wireless networks,” Maledon explains.

In comparison, LoJack’s system uses a wireless transceiver that emits silent radio signals when activated. However, police need to have the proper RF equipment in order to receive the signal. LoJack also offers an Early Warning Recovery System, which uses a key pass for an extra layer of security. If the system senses that a vehicle has been moved without the presence of the key pas, users are contacted via their home phone, cellphone, email, or text messaging so they can more quickly alert consumers that their car may have been stolen.

Businesses and fleet managers are also investing in vehicle recovery technology. Maledon says most of his Skylink customers are car dealerships, which initially use the system to keep track of the vehicles on their lots and then resell it to interested car buyers as an aftermarket feature. Jimmy Holliday, rental director at Toyota Rent-a-car in Union City, Ga., www.toyotaofunioncity.com/Rental-Cars.html, uses the technology to keep tabs on the 150 vehicles in his fleet of rental cars. “We use the unit whenever we can’t get a customer to return a car,” Holliday explains. “We even find ourselves using it when a car gets parked on the lot somewhere, and we can’t locate the car.”

If Holliday has a rental car that is overdue or a car that he can’t locate, he logs into the Skylink system, enters the VIN number, and can instantly locate that vehicle on a satellite map. Holliday says his customers know about the system, but he is sure to clarify that it is only being used to track the car—not the customer. “We don’t turn it on unless the customer fails to return the car,” he notes. “There are certain steps that we have to take to make sure we protect ourselves and protect the privacy of the customer.”

Just four months after installing Skylink, Holliday was able to recover an SUV that was stolen from one of his rental customers. “Immediately, we were able to go into the system and recognize the VIN number, see where the vehicle was located, and call the police,” he says. “It saved us the cost of the vehicle … [instead of it] being located weeks later, stripped down and with half the parts gone.”

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