Ever investigated a theft from auto or a stolen motor vehicle where there was no physical evidence of forced entry at the scene of the crime? I know my first thoughts are, “must have left the vehicle unlocked”. Although there are some sophisticated thieves using slim jims, screwdrivers to locks, or even hand-held lock picks, the number of thieves that simply break a window to gain entry to a vehicle far outnumber the smash and grab lot.
However, with the rapid increase in high-tech anti-theft devices, such as radio frequency ignition locks, it would seem that the sophisticated thief is the one to pay more attention to. Or is it, really?
EDITOR’S NOTE: A big thank you to our friend Randall, at www.thinblueflorida.com for tipping us off about this new method of thievery! To view Randall’s article, click here.
High-Tech Security Devices
How about the owner of a newer model vehicle that uses the latest [easyazon_link identifier=”B00CHI8ACI” locale=”US” tag=”bluesheecom-20″]key fob[/easyazon_link] technology? The owner suffers a loss, but is able to produce the key fob to the investigating officer. It would seem that the most advanced anti-theft security features available in the automobile industry has fallen victim to the old adage, “there is no such thing as an impregnable safe”.
The use of high-tech security devices for entry control is not as new a concept as one might think, however, the mass implementation of the devices into the mainstream “standard option” vehicle is new. Within the last few years almost every new model of vehicle on the market has some form of remote entry and security system, with perhaps the latest and fastest growing trend being the key fob and push-button ignition features.
With the key fob and [easyazon_link identifier=”B00EZJHCAI” locale=”US” tag=”bluesheecom-20″]push-button ignition[/easyazon_link] technology, the lawful owner carries a fob on their person. As long as the fob is nearby the car “reads” the specific radio frequency from the fob and allows the possessor to enter the car without even removing a keyless entry push-button device. They simply walk up to the car and open the doors. The radio frequency output is designed to be very minimal. So (in theory) once the fob holder walks a short distance from the vehicle the doors and ignition are locked to prevent theft.
The same principle applies to the push-button ignition. No more is there a “keyed” ignition that a thief might be able to defeat with physical means. In theory, the vehicle will not start unless the proper radio frequency from the key fob is detected, unlocking a security device that prevents ignition without the signal.
All this sounds great, and there have been many industry advocates that have applauded the efforts of manufacturers to reduce the incidence of motor vehicle thefts through these measures. Like most good ideas, they are great in theory, but not always so great in real-world application.
Thieves Develop a Simple Defeat to High-Tech Security
Now that all these newer model vehicles have been implemented with these new features (at great expense to the buyer no doubt), it would appear that the crafty and savvy adversaries to law enforcement have developed a rather simple and inexpensive method of defeating the well-laid plans of engineers and security advocates.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), is reporting the common car thief is going high-tech. Apparently the “high-tech” [easyazon_link identifier=”B00OHG5756″ locale=”US” tag=”bluesheecom-20″]key fobs[/easyazon_link] that are so in vogue right now are not the end-all be-all they were hoped to be. NICB investigations have revealed a fairly simple and inexpensive way to use high-tech gadgets to defeat these “high-tech” security measures – a radio frequency amplifier.
In simple terms, a portable radio frequency amplifier is carried by the thief. These amplifiers magnify the distance for the short-range key fob transmissions, up to 300 feet. Typically, the fob holder will be within a football field of their car, whether they are in their house, at a restaurant, shopping or at a movie.
Here’s how this plays out:
- Thieves buy a [easyazon_link identifier=”1118844300″ locale=”US” tag=”bluesheecom-20″]radio frequency amplifier[/easyazon_link] for around $25-50
- The thief walks up to the victim’s car with key fob technology
- The thief’s amplifier reaches out and grabs their key fob frequency
- The amplifier extends the range of the key fob to the car
- With the frequency read, the car thinks the owner is nearby and unlocks the doors
- The thief can now choose to steal items from within the car, or steal the car itself.
It is true that a vehicle stolen in this manner is good for a one-time drive. Since the frequency must be present to start the car, once the thief drives away from the fob holder the vehicle will not restart after it stops. However, they could drive for a long time before that happens.
This grab-n-go theft is the most typical form of auto theft. Steal the car, take valuable items from inside, and maybe strip a few parts before dumping the vehicle (and often burning) to avoid apprehension. Though chop shops still exist they account for fewer thefts than the thefts of opportunity and convenience.
Thankfully, knowledge is power and this case is no different. Officers who are aware of this theft method can actively promote greater safety and security by fob holders. Work with Public Information Officers, Detectives, and Community Groups to help keep vehicle owners protected.
The fix to the threat is almost as easy as the threat itself. Randall found that wrapping his key fob in aluminum foil prevented the frequency from getting out to be captured. That is not a long-term fix, and it obviously stirs images of the mentally ill consumer in your district that puts foil over the windows to prevent the X-rays from reading their mind.
There are actually containers already on the market that are designed to store the key fob and isolate the radio frequency from escaping to potentially be hijacked. They are compact and rather inexpensive, especially considering the potential loss without using one. Here is just one example found on Amazon:
[easyazon_link identifier=”B00GRC63M4″ locale=”US” tag=”bluesheecom-20″]Key Fob Disabler at Amazon[/easyazon_link]
Additionally, [easyazon_link identifier=”B00PJJB6CS” locale=”US” tag=”bluesheecom-20″]faraday bags[/easyazon_link] can be used to isolate the frequency waves, protecting the fob holder. These are the same bags often used when taking cell phones, or other electronic media into evidence, to prevent remote elimination of information before the investigator can collect the evidence.
I’m sure you’ve all said it before – “if these thieves would just apply their skills and drive to legitimate business they’d be rich legally”. Though true, so many choose the easier approach to new-found wealth. So for now, high-tech or not, police will still respond to thefts from auto and stolen cars while the engineers and advocates think up of new ways to secure our property.
About the NICB
The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) is the nation’s premier not-for-profit organization dedicated exclusively to fighting insurance fraud and crime, and is the only organization in the United States that convenes the collective resources needed to prevent, detect and deter these crimes. The founding organization has been at work for over 100 years, and has worked hard to keep up with the latest methods used by thieves. Information gathered is studied for counter measures, and intelligence is disseminated to a broad audience, including law enforcement agencies.
The NICB was formed in 1992 from a merger between the National Automobile Theft Bureau (NATB) and the Insurance Crime Prevention Institute (ICPI), both of which were not-for-profit organizations. The NATB — which managed vehicle theft investigations and developed vehicle theft databases for use by the insurance industry — dates to the early 20th century, while the ICPI investigated insurance fraud for approximately 20 years before joining with the NATB to form the present National Insurance Crime Bureau.
The NICB comprises over 380 employees that work with law enforcement agencies, technology experts, government officials, prosecutors, international crime-fighting organizations and the public to lead a united effort to prevent and combat insurance fraud and crime.