Investigators

Car thieves now intercepting key fob signals for remote-control heists

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) - There’s a warning being issued to anyone who has a car with keyless entry and keyless ignition. Thieves can steal your car by remote control.

Wireless vehicle thefts are growing according to state auto theft officials who say at least 24 makes and models are now susceptible to remote control thievery.

Here's how it impacts you: When you do activate your fob, you are essentially using a tiny radio station.

The fob is always broadcasting even when it's safely locked in your house. That means thieves can steal your car without physically accessing the fob.

Inspector Sandi Rogers of the North Carolina DMV License and Theft Bureau says car fob intercept attacks “are hard to detect because it can appear that someone left their vehicle unlocked. Usually, the only ones we know about have been caught on security or surveillance camera.”

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A car fob's signal may be too weak to be detected outside the house so, thieves use a signal amplifier to do their dirty work.

Here's how it works:

The thieves work in pairs. One uses a device to capture the fob’s signal from inside a home.

That device then relays the signal from a wireless key fob to a device held by a second thief standing near a targeted vehicle.

When that second device is triggered, it starts the car because it thinks you want to drive.

“It tricks the vehicle into believing it the fob is in your hand,” said inspector Rogers.

Remember that old joke about people putting tin-foil hats on their heads to block out radio waves?

When it comes to key fobs it's no joke.

Something as simple as wrapping your fob in tin foil creates a barrier known as a Faraday cage, and that blocks the interception of the signal. 

A metal can or metal lunchbox work just as well.

The least you can do, says Rogers, is to make sure a fob is not near a window or door in a house -- or anyplace where that the transmitted signal can be intercepted.

You can also go online to buy a Faraday bag or pouch if you want to protect your key fob while you are away from home.

Rogers says once the fob is in the Faraday bag and it blocks all electromagnetic signals. She says, it will even work for a cell phone to protect it from WI-FI intercepts.

Automakers are working on ways to prevent remote thefts, but in the meantime, it's up to the consumer to be proactive.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau keep tracks of stolen car hot spots around the country.

Here is the most recent update. 


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