Toyota dealer sued for stealing intimate photo off couple’s smartphone

There’s an important lesson in data security here…

David bisson
David Bisson

Toyota dealer sued for stealing intimate photo off couple's smartphone

A couple has sued a Toyota dealership for stealing an intimate photograph off the husband’s smartphone and uploading it to a website for swingers.

In January 2015, Tim Gautreaux, 29, a pastor at Hope Fellowship in Frisco, went to Texas Toyota with his wife Claire, 27, who works in retail management.

Tim had saved his pre-approved financing document for a new car on his smartphone. The salesperson helping the couple asked to borrow the smartphone so that he could show the information to his manager.

Sign up to our free newsletter.
Security news, advice, and tips.

Five minutes later, the salesperson returned and handed the phone back to Tim. To complete the purchase, the couple went to see the dealership’s finance manager, who asked to see the financing document.

That’s when Tim noticed something was wrong.

When he went to pull up the document, he saw that an intimate photo of his wife had recently been selected. Some additional digging on his part revealed that someone had sent the photo of his wife to a couple based in Garland and a swingers’ website.

Claire was absolutely mortified. As quoted by NBC 5:

“My husband took a photograph of me in a private moment in our home. I never imagined anyone else would see it, let along that they would send my picture to an email address associated with swingers. We were at a Toyota dealership to buy a car and not to share anything about our lives with the people there.”

Matt ThomasThe couple called the police. Investigators arrived on the scene and learned that Matt Thomas, the dealership’s owner, had emailed the images to himself before he uploaded it to his profile on a swingers’ website.

Thomas deleted those emails, but an app installed on Tim’s phone managed to recover them.

Local law enforcement arrested Thomas in November 2015 on computer security charges. He posted bail shortly thereafter and is now due back in court on 29 December.

In the meantime, the Gautreauxs have suedThomas, Texas Toyota of Grapevine, and Toyota Motor North America citing intrusion and negligence, among other crimes.

They’re demanding one million dollars in damages.

Couple files lawsuit against dealership after private photos end up on a swingers website

I would be surprised if Toyota doesn’t settle with the Gautreauxs before the case makes it to trial. No car manufacturer wants that kind of negative publicity to be dragged out in court, even if it pertains to just one salesperson at one of their car dealerships.

Now let’s be clear about something. The young couple has every right to feel violated by Thomas and Texas Toyota. But as their lawyer says in the press briefing above, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened, and it certainly won’t be the last. That’s because even in professional situations like buying a car, you never know who the other person really is on the other side of the table.

With that in mind, if you have saved data that you don’t want others to see, it’s a good idea to NEVER hand over access of your smartphone or computer to anyone you don’t trust unless it’s the manufacturer for a technical issue. It might be more inconvenient to, say, print out a pre-approved financing document than to save it on a phone, but that type of measure could prevent incidents like this from happening.

David Bisson is an infosec news junkie and security journalist. He works as Contributing Editor for Graham Cluley Security News and Associate Editor for Tripwire's "The State of Security" blog.

5 comments on “Toyota dealer sued for stealing intimate photo off couple’s smartphone”

  1. Bob

    Why didn't Mr Gautreaux offer to email the financing document to the employee or his manager? It'd have prevented this embarrassing situation.

  2. Chris

    While is it undoubtedly unfair to put blame on the Gautreauxs, personally I would never hand my unlocked smartphone to anybody outside of my presence. If I show somebody a photo on there, it stays in my hand. The only person who can get in to it without me there and is trusted to do so is my wife. Smartphones are too personal to take that risk with anybody else, most people keep their entire life in there. Would you let anybody rummage through your filing cabinet, photo albums, your wallet, the drawers in your house?

  3. Alex

    What astounds me is that after all the leaked celeb photos and so much private data being spilled in the media and on social sites, people STILL trust intimate data to electronic devices. Especially portable devices. If you're thick enough carry such around with you under the impression that it will remain private, you deserve whatever you get.

    That being said, I hope the image thief pays for his dishonesty and indiscretion.

  4. Thomas D Dial

    Mr. Gautreaux certainly was careless in allowing the dealership's representative to remove the unlocked phone from his sight, and engaged in risky behavior in having the pictures on the phone and accessible when the phone was unlocked. That does not excuse the atrocious behavior of the dealer's employee. If the claims in the Gautreaux's complaint are correct, the dealership was aware of previous instances in which the same employee behaved inappropriately, and thus would have accepted risk of future instances.

    Extending the notion of liability to Toyota may well be a stretch, but as the article suggests, they may consider the adverse publicity possibilities of a trial and choose to negotiate a settlement. It also seems possible that Toyota might wish to disassociate itself from Texas Toyota as the opportunity may come up in the future.

  5. Jen

    Bah! Even what the seller did was inappropriate, what idiot handle their phone to other, specially is there private pics, there thousands way of sending documents without handle your device, then wow how quick he notice, I think the couple was fishing for an idiot that fall on their trap, and there go the idiot.

What do you think? Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.