March 6, 2014
Few notice the “spotter car” from Manny Sousa’s repo company as it scours Massachusetts parking lots, looking for vehicles whose owners have defaulted on their loans. Sousa’s unmarked car is part of a technological revolution that goes well beyond the repossession business, transforming any industry that wants to check on the whereabouts of ordinary people.
An automated reader attached to the spotter car takes a picture of every license plate it passes and sends it to a company in Texas that already has more than 1.8 billion plate scans from vehicles across the country.
These scans mean big money for Sousa — typically $200 to $400 every time the spotter finds a vehicle that’s stolen or in default — so he runs his spotter around the clock, typically adding 8,000 plate scans to the database in Texas each day.
“Honestly, we’ve found random apartment complexes and shopping plazas that are sweet spots” where the company can impound multiple vehicles, explains Sousa, the president of New England Associates Inc. in Bridgewater.
But the most significant impact of Sousa’s business is far bigger than locating cars whose owners have defaulted on loans: It is the growing database of snapshots showing where Americans were at specific times, information that everyone from private detectives to insurers are willing to pay for.