If there was any trust that Amber Khan (not her real name) had in anti-car theft “tracker” companies, it was lost within minutes of discovering that her Daihatsu Cuore was stolen some weeks back, despite being under constant surveillance of the security company. “The first shock was the fact that my car was stolen. The second was the casual manner in which my complaint was handled by the tracking company which insisted that the fault was mine and not theirs,” she recalls.
Khan had purchased her car only some weeks back through UBL AMEEN, the Islamic car financing arm of United Bank Limited, one of the country’s leading banks. UBL AMEEN took care of the tracker company, in this case a Lahore-based company called Info-Track.
Khan says that she had trust in UBL but not in any tracking company. “They chose possibly one of the more dubious companies and as a result I lost my car,” she adds.A survey conducted by The News on the effectiveness of tracker companies operating in the city found that some companies were openly claiming that despite their state of the art systems, the system was useless for small cars and also not effective in theft cases. This is something neither Khan nor thousands of other customers who have taken the services of sub-standard tracker companies were ever told.
It may be recalled that many tracker companies started functioning in 2003 using a system called JASIM which directly connects to the network coverage areas of cellular companies. Initially, the companies showed good results as most car thieves were unaware of this technology. Then the Anti Car Lifting Unit (ACLU) Karachi, a specialised unit of the Karachi Police, discovered that several vehicles were “de-track-ed” by criminal gangs and taken away despite the hi-tech systems installed. These cars were then spirited off to other parts of the country.
Recently two major gangs involved in this practice of “de-tracking vehicles” were caught by the ACLU. During interrogation, the car robbers revealed that they could defuse the tracking system within five minutes. This has led to more questions being asked by the ACLU about the effectiveness of the system for which customers are paying millions of rupees collectively in special services being offered.
It may be mentioned that there are about 18 tracker companies working in Karachi and most of the companies have their head offices in Lahore. Karachi is seen as the hot-spot for car theft in the country.
Amber Khan recalled that when she took delivery of her Cuore car, before handing over the car the insurance company installed a tracker system. Officials of the company told her that their system was “the best system in the city and the safety of her car was their guarantee.” But after her car was stolen and she called the tracking company for her car’s location, the official refused to disclose the location of her car and told her that her car “was out of their screen and the criminals who had stolen her car had probably defused the tracking system.”
She asked why she was not told that defusing of a tracker system was common in the city. Despite repeated requests, the company has also not given any record of where her car’s last movements were recorded.
When contacted, Muhammad Zubair, Manager Operations of Info-Track stated that the tracker system of his company did not work for small cars when they were parked or when they were taken into a basement.
“Why was I not told of this?” asks Amber Khan. To this Info-Track officials have no answer, only an apology. Law enforcement officials and security experts say that such companies who claim to have hi-tech systems in place are “actually fleecing the people.”
Some say that the fault lies with the bank for making its customers compulsorily install this system. UBL President Atif Bukhari was contacted for his comments but there was no response from his side.
Not all companies are sub-standard. Many customers say that it depends on the service being offered by the company. Arsalan Ahmed Khan, a banker, told The News that he had a Toyota Corolla car installed with a tracking system. Once he was confronted by car snatchers at Teen Talwar in Karachi. As they snatched his car and tried to defuse the tracking system, Arsalan received an immediate response from the tracker company who alerted the police which encircled the criminals and caught them.
A police investigation officer said there is a prominent wire which is cut by the criminals and the tracking system is rendered useless. He warned that there were only three major companies whose system was different and criminals have been unable to crack their system.
However, due to the cost of installing a tracker system everyone cannot install the proper system and go for alternatives. The high end companies also disconnect the system when payments are not made by customers and this renders cars unsafe.
The officer said that the companies were using JASIM system, which is directly connected to the network of cellular companies. This was unreliable and would break down when coverage was down. More effective was the satellite system, he said.
The tracker system is fully effective at Super Highway, National Highway and RCD Highway but on the RCD to Balochistan Highway, it was noticed that after Hub, about 40 miles onwards, the tracker system did not work.
What is appalling is that most of the criminals held were former employees of the same tracker companies. To check this trend, the police have asked tracker companies to give records of those employees who were sacked by the companies so that they could follow this up in case of thefts. But the companies have not obliged so far.
One police officer recalled that a vehicle was stolen from Gulshan area in Karachi but after three days the car came on the screen of the tracker company giving location as Dadu. Immediate action was taken and the tracker company along with the police conducted a raid and recovered the car.
A police official commented that the system was largely effective and that in every ten vehicles, eight vehicles were recovered. At the same time, experts say that there are certain companies which are using low quality devices which at times malfunction. Some companies are using locally manufactured devices and software technology while others are using Chinese products and they don’t have proper guidance maps and proper management units to operate.
The tracker system works on GSM and GPS (Global Positioning System). GSM communicates with the car and GPS with the location. If the vehicle is out of the GSM coverage area, the GPS always points out the location of the car and if the company is a good one can always request the GSM operators to provide service to that particular area in order to recover the car.
However, it should be pointed out that the tracking of the car is not done 24/7. Only when the customer needs the location of their car, the location is provided. Or in the case of alarms going off, the company contacts the car owner and also does the tracking.
The reason given by some of the car tracking companies that the car lifters have defused or dismantled the device is seen as a lame excuse as it is the responsibility of the tracker companies to have efficient and fast mobile teams to track and reach the exact location of the stolen car, say experts.
There are some tracker companies using Beacon technology which is outdated. One such company, Star Track, was black listed for using outdated technology. Similarly, another company, Win Track, was also blacklisted.
Sohail Akram, Manager of the “Car Ijarah” facility at Bank Al-Falah said “car lifting is on the rise. We receive many complaints about car snatching and car lifting and there are car tracker companies which have failed to track the car. Due to this, some insurance companies have black listed such companies.”
Despite this poor record, what is worrisome is that leading banks, in a bid to offer attractive packages in their car loans, are falling for the temptation of signing agreements with low-tech car tracker companies. In this, customers who have seen their cars stolen have no recourse except to suffer in silence as their claims are processed over a period of several months though no fault of their own.
COURTESY : THE NEWS on
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
By THE NEWS correspondents