The Risks of Connecting Your Phone to Your Rental Car

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SACRAMENTO — Kristy Yoskey is one experienced business traveler. She’s the vice president at a rehab and health care services company, and she’s always on the move.

“I travel about 80 percent of my work schedule,” she says. “Four days a week, three weeks a month. If I’m driving further than two hours I’m renting a car. If it’s longer than four hours, I’m flying. But even when I fly, I still rent cars.”

That’s an average of ten rental cars a month, 120 a year. That’s a lot of driving.

“It’s second nature to get into a car, throw the Bluetooth on, listen to your music, take your calls from the car hands free,” Yoskey says.

Juggling different cities and different clients each week, Kristy relies on hands-free technology to help navigate life on the road.

“If I don’t have my headset that comes with the phone, I’m using the Bluetooth in the car. It’s just the easiest, it works the best,” Yoskey says. “So yeah, every time.”

But what Kristy doesn’t know is that every time she rents a car, she’s putting her personal information at risk.

“The car stores your phone number so it can easily connect back to it at another point,” explains Bryan Safara, a research analyst at Secure State. He says every time you plug your phone into an auxiliary cord or a Bluetooth, the rental car is storing your data.

“It also downloads all your contacts, your address book, any text messages or emails you have during the time it’s paired with it,” says Safara. “And of course any call logs during that period as well. So once you actually disconnect that information stays there.”

Which means all that personal information is just sitting there, waiting around for the next renter to find it. What can you do to protect yourself?

“The best one is just not to do it. The data won’t be there if you never connect it,” explains Safara. “If you do it, go into settings on the console in the car and actually delete all the data, or do a factory reset on it as well.”

Something else to consider — if you use the car’s navigation system, you may want to go into settings and clear the history. That way, future renters won’t know where you’ve been, or where you live.

Safara also recommends staying away from USB ports. He says there is a real risk in using these so-called “connected cars”, including hackers taking control of the vehicle.

“However, as technology progresses and hackers get more advanced with their techniques, there’s always going to be vulnerability that somebody has to be on the watch for,” says Safara.

It’s a real eye-opener for people like Kristy, who says she’s going to be much more careful the next time she connects to a rental car.

“I had no idea. It’s something I never thought of. I couldn’t even imagine that was possible. I thought once my phone was off and out of the car, it was over. So knowing that the next drivers could see my information is a little unsettling.”

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