Car thieves are turning to a two-person system that, with the help of technology, allows them to pop the locks on cars with keyless entry and then – if the vehicle has keyless start – drive off.
“They’re very bold,” Jason Flenniken of south Austin, Texas said, according to WOIA-TV.
Flenniken said his neighborhood has been hit by thieves using what are known as relay devices to get into locked vehicles.
“There were at least three people that were roaming around our particular street,” said Flenniken. “I know in the neighborhood that night we had a lot more valuables stolen, and two actual cars were taken that night.”
Two people are needed to make a relay theft work.
One goes to the front door of an unsuspecting house, because many people store key fobs near the front door.
Thief One captures and amplifies the signal from the fob just inside the door.
WARNING: Car thieves have been using “relay attacks,” where they use equipment to remotely amplify wireless key fob signals to gain access to a victim’s car & start the ignition. Here’s how to prevent it. #SFPD https://t.co/SSfHC4NQlh pic.twitter.com/iZhBBc6uZ3
— San Francisco SAFE (@SFSAFE) January 24, 2020
Meanwhile, Thief Two is waiting by the car, holding a second hacking device near the car door.
The car, engineered to do as the key fob says, opens the door, giving the thieves the opportunity to either take the car’s content or, in some cases, the car itself.
“With a relay attack all you’re really doing is kind of putting an extension cord on your key fob,” said Flenniken. “It’s too easy to do, unfortunately.”
“A lot of drivers are not aware of this ability for thieves to steal their vehicle by simply just standing outside of their home,” Daniel Armbruster of AAA Texas said.
“This can happen to you. It’s not something that’s just a high-tech idea or sci-fi fantasy. This really is happening and, of course, many drivers are finding out the hard way,” he said.
Armbruster said one simple solution is the best defense.
“Don’t leave your key fob in an area near the front door,” said Armbruster. “When you’re at home, store your car keys or fob in a metal cabinet or with some sort of device that protects the radio signal from being intercepted.”
Flenniken said that from now on, his key fob will go in a metal box to block the fob’s signal from being transmitted.
“We actually ordered one. Put that by your front door and just drop your keys in that,” said Flenniken. “You have to set yourself up to not be an easy target.”