5 ways to combat high-tech car thieves
Auto thieves using frequency jammers and key programmers present a new challenge for police
In years past, the typical car thief’s tools of the trade were a “slim jim” strip for the door lock, a screwdriver or punch drill for the steering wheel lock, and/or what one of my police colleagues called a “BFR” (big f***ing rock).
The thief shimmed the door and hot-wired the ignition, or just stole items from the interior. They usually weren’t very sophisticated or even very bright, and finding them in possession of any of these tools was good PC for an arrest.
Now that most of us lock our cars with electronic key fobs, the car thief community has risen to the challenge.
Momentarily, a Mystery
It was like the thief had his own key.
In some cases, that’s exactly what happened. These thefts are possible through the use of frequency jammers that block the signal from the key fob to the car, and key programmers that make new computer-compatible keys in the spot, using the coding already onboard in the car.
The scheme works like this: the car’s owner parks the car, exits, and presses the button on the key fob to lock all the doors and set the vehicle’s anti-theft system remotely.
Or, at least he thinks he does. Most cars sound the horn and flash the lights briefly to indicate the lock signal has been received, but the owner may not notice he didn’t hear the chirp, or thought it was masked by traffic noise.
In actuality, the signal never reached the car, because it was blocked by a signal jammer located somewhere nearby. The thief buys one of these from an offshore dealer for $100-$300, and waits in a likely area for his prey to arrive. He turns on the jammer and waits for the owner to walk away, thinking his car is secured.
When the coast is clear, the thief approaches the car and enters it, which is easy because it’s unlocked. He may just go through the interior, trunk, and glove box looking for valuables, or if he is more sophisticated and prepared, he moves on to ‘step two.’
Key Fob Programmers
They’re available in the U.S., but most of the stateside dealers ask too many questions — such as “Are you a car thief?” — so thieves get their hardware elsewhere.
The thief plugs the programmer into the onboard diagnostic connector port that nearly all cars come equipped with these days, and the programmer reads the key code already loaded into the car’s computer. The code is transferred onto the tiny chip embedded in the new key, and the thief uses this to steal the car.
The radio frequency jammers are illegal for use in the United States — and most other industrialized countries — as they transmit on a frequency the operator is not licensed for. However, if you’re buying the device to commit felonies, this probably isn’t much of a deterrent.
Auto manufacturers will probably come up with a better theft deterrent eventually, but cars with today’s anti-theft technology will be on the road for years to come.
From a crime investigation and prevention perspective, here’s what you can do:
1.) Urge citizens to ensure they see and hear the cues their car gives when the lock signal has been received. Don’t just assume it got there.
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