How Thieves Can Detect Laptops, Phones, and Other Electronics Left in Your Car

Sometimes, break-ins and car theft still happen even with our best efforts to protect our cars and their contents. You should always try to avoid leaving expensive items in your vehicle unless necessary. Even stowing your electronics out of view won’t deter determined burglars. That’s because they now use gadgets that can detect many electronic devices without even looking inside your car.

Here’s how car thieves can find laptops, phones, and other electronics left in your vehicle and how you can protect your belongings.

How thieves can steal your electronics from your car

Demonstration of car theft and burglary: Man wearing a balaclava, holding a wrecking bar, about to break open the driver's door of a vehicle
Demonstration of car theft and burglary | Andia/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

California police officers recently confirmed to Wired that thieves now use Bluetooth scanners to detect electronics left in unattended cars. Anyone can install a Bluetooth scanner app on their smartphone, and it works even when a Bluetooth-enabled device is idle. A device can avoid detection if it’s powered down, but that’s dependent upon the Bluetooth settings.

These scanning apps tell the user what kind of device is emitting the Bluetooth signal and its exact location. Although burglars use the apps for nefarious purposes, these scanners are fairly commonplace for finding lost devices. Therefore, it’s difficult for law enforcement to take action against a resource that could be used without harm.

However, some police departments won’t release information about the criminal use of Bluetooth scanners to prevent their further illegal use. That has led some people to believe it’s just a myth and that the burglaries in question are random acts. Skeptics also think it’s likelier that the thief saw the driver use or hide the device in their car. 

However, that doesn’t explain why burglars usually take only Bluetooth-enabled devices. In one instance, a driver said she also had some boxing equipment and cash inside the vehicle. It definitely seems like the thief had a specific item in mind, allowing them to make a faster getaway.

Stolen items aren’t the only concern with car break-ins

In San Francisco, drivers have resorted to leaving their windows down and trunks open on their parked cars. That’s an effort to combat car break-ins, which rose by 32% last year. Some drivers go one step further and leave their car doors unlocked.

Why? Well, a thief’s logic might tell them that a car left obviously open and unarmed probably has nothing to take. The drivers don’t have to worry about replacing their windows or stolen items. However, police are trying to discourage this practice, Fox News reports.

If your car is unlocked, a thief could steal your vehicle’s registration from the glove box. And keeping the trunk ajar leaves spare tires and even car batteries practically out in the open. Sometimes, an unarmed car looks like an even easier target for thieves.

The best ways to protect belongings in your car from theft

The best way to protect your valuables is by keeping them with you at all times. If you must keep your laptop or tablet in the car, make sure it’s completely powered off. You should also disable Bluetooth so that scanners can’t detect it.

Thieves still might target your vehicle for money or other valuables, even if they don’t have Bluetooth scanners. So park your car in a well-lit or populated area whenever possible. If you leave your vehicle in a parking garage, try to position it near a security camera. 

If a thief sees a CCTV camera directly above your car, they likely won’t give it another glance. You can also buy your own dashboard camera, many of which are affordable. Any device that looks like it might be recording, such as a fake blinking light, can deter thieves. 

RELATED: Warning! Car Thieves Can Use Apple AirTags to Track and Steal Cars