Are your bumper stickers revealing too much about your family?

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Bumper stickers can broadcast a person’s life story or a family’s history and tendencies. For example, a bumper sticker touting a student’s good grades at school can get a criminal’s attention and be the starting point for building a family profile that can aid in a burglary or worse.

Protecting privacy is more important to most people than ever before, but often, we don’t recognize the things we do that voluntarily surrender that privacy. Placing a bumper sticker on your vehicle can start a process that leads to greater and greater intrusion into your life. Anytime you consider placing a bumper sticker on your vehicle, it is important to ask yourself just how revealing it might be. A decision to place a bumper sticker on your car should be deliberate, keeping certain things in mind.

Key bumper sticker statistics

The following statistics from a survey conducted about bumper stickers are informative and illustrate just how people today want to make statements about themselves and their beliefs:

  • In the U.S., bumper stickers are more prevalent in the South than in other parts of the country. Two out of three survey respondents from Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee have at least one bumper sticker.
  • One out of two people in the Western U.S. and Great Lakes region have at least one bumper sticker.
  • Women are 126% more likely to have a bumper sticker on their car than men (63% women vs 50% men).
  • According to a survey, the most popular bumper stickers were related to sports, fitness, or leisure activities (17%). Stickers relating to politics were the second most popular (16%).
  • Over 82% of drivers affiliated with the Green Party had a sticker on their car.
  • Honor roll stickers were taken as a sign of pride by about 50% of drivers surveyed.
  • A couple of types of bumper stickers stand out because of how frequently they agitate other drivers. These are the Confederate flag and Trump/Pence stickers. Nearly 34 percent of people surveyed believed that the Confederate flag was evidence of a lack of education. 28 percent of those surveyed also viewed others as ignorant because of a Trump/Pence bumper sticker on their vehicles.
  • Bumper stickers that revealed the driver could be a parent of an honor roll student were viewed by 52 percent of people surveyed as a moment of pride.
  • In Florida, Georgia, Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan, the most common bumper stickers were family-related.
  • California is one of just three states whose drivers preferred bumper stickers that espouse political beliefs.

Risks associated with bumper stickers

Bumper stickers create a dilemma for those who are proud of their lives and the accomplishments of their family members and want to broadcast that pride. The bumper sticker offers a simple and direct way of effectively bragging about these things but also creates its own set of serious dangers.

For example, a family that loves ski vacations or time away in the sun and surf may think nothing of splashing their cars with bumper stickers that proudly say, “We were here!” However, as explained by Corporal Tina McGriff with the Montgomery Police Department, “stickers that show frequent vacation spots could inform burglars that your home is left unattended during vacation seasons.”

It could help keep you and your family safe to stay aware of these and other bunker sticker risks.

Reveals personal information

A bumper sticker can reveal personal information about the driver of a vehicle or their family that a person might not otherwise share with strangers. This often inadvertent disclosure of personal information may include:

  • A church sticker might suggest that you are away from home on Sunday mornings.
  • Pro-gun stickers can tell criminals that there may be valuable firearms in your car. While this could be a deterrent to some, it represents an opportunity to others.
  • Showing pride in your honor student reveals where the child attends school, a piece of information that may attract predators. Like writing your child’s name on a backpack, these bumper stickers can reveal just enough information to generate danger.

It is certainly understandable, particularly in our socially networked society, that people want to show pride in the lives they lead, including completed marathons, exotic vacation sites and wonderful accomplishments of family members. But here is a shortlist of the kinds of things bumper stickers can reveal to strangers about your and your family’s life:

  • When and where you might go out of town (lets burglars know your home is left unattended).
  • What types of activities you and your family participate in.
  • What school or daycare your children attend.
  • The charities you support can suggest a healthy financial life.
  • How you vote and who you support may reveal a great deal today that generates ill will with others.
  • Even sports teams that a driver favors can provoke animosity.

Hints at what is inside of the car

Bumper stickers don’t just advertise who you and your family are; they can also alert potential thieves that you may have something they want in your car. Most insurance experts recommend that you properly insure your vehicle, not only against personal injury and damage to the vehicle but also the theft of the vehicle’s contents. Comprehensive coverage is structured to cover losses caused by factors other than car accidents, including vehicle contents theft.

Of course, you can also help reduce the risk of your stuff being stolen from your car by preventing a break-in in the first place. There are certain safety precautions we should all consider taking, including locking our vehicles and assuring that valuables are not left in plain sight when the car is parked. But these precautions could be undercut by bumper stickers that, in effect, say to the world, “I keep valuables in my car, come and get them.”

How can bumper stickers make a car break-in more appealing to a potential thief? Here are some examples:

  • Company stickers can send the message that there may be a company laptop inside.
  • NRA stickers could indicate there are valuable guns inside.
  • Stickers that reveal a profession are problematic. For example, medical or pharmacy school stickers may suggest a doctor or pharmacist has prescription drugs in the vehicle.

Potentially endangers your children

Theft of personal effects, even very valuable belongings, can be unsettling and, at times, devastating. Still, such losses will never compare to the serious injury or potential death of a child. When bumper stickers reveal information about your children, you could be placing them in unintended danger by giving potential predators too much knowledge. The parental desire to share your pride in your children’s accomplishments can also put them at risk. These are just a few ways that bumper stickers could put your kids at risk:

  • Bumper stickers that reveal what school or daycare your children attend or talk about other social activities can give predators information about where your kids are likely to be.
  • Stickers that share what sports or other extra-curricular activities your child participates in can give a stalker enough information to follow your child anywhere.
  • A bumper sticker that reveals that a parent is a member of the military may mean that parent is frequently away, leaving those at home more vulnerable.
  • Stickers displaying employers may suggest that both parents are away from home during the day, leaving the children alone.
  • Any information predators can gather about a child can later be used to build trust with that child.

College or sorority stickers can endanger students

Unfortunately, college-aged women can be particularly vulnerable to crime. Sharing information that alerts potential predators that a young female is driving or owns a car can increase the risks. It simply makes no sense to provide additional information to the world that a young female is in the driver’s seat.

Specifically, college, sorority or related bumper stickers can do the following:

  • Sorority stickers immediately alert people that the driver is a young college female. At least in the eyes of many, this makes the young woman an easy target.
  • Sorority stickers can help an inquisitive criminal trace the local chapter associated with the sorority and quickly determine where the driver goes to school.
  • These stickers can also help stalkers and predators predict where the young driver may be at points in the future, such as an upcoming sorority party or sorority-sponsored event.
  • College stickers can potentially incite violence through simple rivalry gone too far, so it’s probably better not to advertise that information on the road.

Safer alternatives

Because pride is the primary reason that people pepper their vehicles with bumper stickers, attractive alternatives that allow people to express this pride are worth a look. There are a number of these alternatives to bumper stickers that can reduce or eliminate the safety risks described in this article and still allow folks to express and share their pride in family accomplishments, skills and interests. Here are several:

  • A cavalcade of all varieties of stickers are now available, and in fact designed, to be placed on refrigerators, backpacks, water bottles and laptop computers instead of vehicles. These personal statements can still display your passions and family accomplishments, but to a much smaller audience over which you have much greater control.
  • Social media offers an obvious alternative to vehicle bumper stickers, but of course presents its own risks if care is not taken to limit distribution to a trusted group.

There are also different types of vehicle bumper stickers that don’t reveal the type of personal and family information that can put people at risk. These run the gamut from “drive safely” stickers to friendly jokes to memorable quotes from movies and songs. You can help keep your family safe and minimize risk by choosing truly non-controversial stickers that don’t disclose the types of information which make criminal activity easier.

Conclusion

None of us want to put our loved ones in danger, and most bumper stickers are innocently placed on vehicles to share the successes and passions of the driver and his or her family. Most folks are simply unaware of the potential risks created by revealing family information. Now that you know, hopefully you can make a more deliberate and informed decision whenever you choose to tell a story on your vehicle with a bumper sticker.

Keep these tips in mind that next time you are choosing a bumper sticker:

  • Bumper stickers can reveal important personal information about the driver and family members, which make them more vulnerable to criminal behavior.
  • Stickers can also send a message, political or otherwise, that can aggravate and at times enrage certain groups of people.
  • For some people, such as college-aged women, simply identifying the driver as a member of a vulnerable group can put them at greater risk.
  • Bumper stickers can alert thieves that you may have something of interest to them in your vehicle.
  • Finally, consider this: bumper stickers are often not easily removed and covering a car with bumper stickers can damage your vehicle and certainly reduce resale and trade-in values.
Written by
Rick Hoel
Insurance Contributor
Rick Hoel is an international business attorney and legal and insurance writer for Bankrate.com, Reviews.com and Accessibility.com. Over the last several years, he has covered topics dealing with personal and commercial insurance and technology and the law. Rick is General Counsel and Director of Risk Management and sits on the Board of Power Stow Americas Inc., a subsidiary of Power Stow A/S in Denmark, the world leader in the supply of tracked conveyor systems to the airline industry.
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