By Jim Donovan

By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Law enforcement officials say they got a big break in the kidnapping case of Carlesha Freeland-Gaither with the help of a GPS device.   Authorities say that after seeing a used-car dealer’s name on a traffic-camera image of alleged assailant Delvin Barnes’ car,  they asked the dealership to turn on the GPS unit.  3 On Your Side Consumer Reporter Jim Donovan tells us these devices aren’t uncommon, yet and they’re more than just a traditional GPS system that most people use.

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An estimated two million vehicles nationwide are equipped with what are known as starter interrupt devices.  Made by various manufacturers, the devices can track the location and movements of a vehicle, and can also remotely disable the ignition using a computer or mobile phone.  They’re used as a way to prevent people with bad credit from buying a car and skipping out on the payments.  Think of it as a virtual repo man.

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According to Ron Montoya of the automotive site Edmunds.com, “This is a way for a lot of these used car dealers who have high risk customers for them to sort of keep track of the vehicle and access it remotely if they need to if you know someone is not paying their bills.   It’s a way for them to track it rather than having to track down a repo man every single time they need to get hold of a car.”

About one quarter of sub-prime car loans involve these types of devices.  Those are loans where the credit score is at or below 640.  In most cases the driver is aware the device is installed in the car before driving off the lot, and the dealer should disclose it.   Although in some cases, they don’t.

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