Bay Area car insurance company helps track down stolen car

Jonathan Bloom Image
ByJonathan Bloom KGO logo
Friday, March 6, 2015
Bay Area car insurance company helps track down stolen car
When a man noticed his car was stolen, he called his insurance company and they were able to track down the car thief.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A new kind of car insurance had an unexpected benefit for a Bay Area couple -- it brought back their stolen car. ABC7 News takes a look at a local insurance startup went the extra mile to help catch the crooks.

Of all the types of calls an insurance call center takes, Alex Bozman got one of the more unusual ones. She told ABC7 News a caller "apologized for taking so much of my time. I was like, 'I've got my coffee here, I'm good. Let's do this.'"

Bozman had just been asked to help chase a car all over town, digitally. Metromile customers get a GPS device called a Metronome, so they can price your insurance based on how much you drive. Along with it comes an app with other location services.

"Street cleaning notifications, to remember where I parked the car when I street parked, that kind of stuff. Never really realizing that one day it would find my car for me," customer Ryan Hartigan said.

It was Hartigan's partner, Jordan, who went outside to head to work and couldn't find the car anywhere.

"I knew pretty instantly that it had been stolen," Jordan said.

Jordan called police, while Hartigan called Metromile.

"It was great. The police officers could not have been more excited that we had a live dot on this thing," Jordan said.

"I was on the phone with them for a while, and I was watching the car move," Bozman said.

The car went from Potrero Hill to the Mission District, on and off the freeway, and finally into the Bayview. Hartigan showed us the spot where it finally parked and police moved in.

"They found a crack pipe in the car. They found other bags full of goods that did not belong to us," Hartigan said.

And they found a second stolen car and arrested two suspects.

But for every success story like this one, there are those who worry about horror stories that could arise if your trail of digital breadcrumbs were ever used without your consent. Location data is, after all, some of the most sensitive data there is.

"We're waiting for a Target or a Home Depot situation with a massive data breach. If that includes location data, I don't want to know what's going to happen," Nate Cardozo from the Electronic Frontier Foundation said.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation notes insurance companies have been careful with the data so far, but he also worries about authorized access.

"If an estranged husband is still the named policy holder on a car, his wife might not want him to know exactly where she is at all times," Cardozo said.

However, that's not an issue for Hartigan and Jordan. As for leaving a digital trail, Hartigan said, "I'm completely fine with that. It saved the day."