New technology is helping thieves steal locked cars. Police are warning owners of cars with keyless ignition systems to beware.
It happened to a College Hill woman in April, while her car was parked in her driveway. The keys were inside her locked home. Police believe hackers tapped into the woman’s key fob and were able to unlock her car, start it and start driving.
Her surveillance cameras caught someone walk into her backyard, unlock her car, climb in and try to drive off. Instead of pulling out of the driveway, the person backed the car into the home and eventually gave up.
Police say there have been similar theft reports for more than a year. Cincinnati Police said it is likely thieves are using RFI repeaters, also known as RF devices, to steal keyless-start cars without getting their hands on the key fob.
Police say anyone who has an RF device could be charged with a felony, because the device is considered a criminal tool.
“About once a month, you’ll have a car that gets stolen with no explanation as to how they stole it, except for that this is the only solution,” Sgt. Eric Franz said. “We’ve had enough that are suspicious to make us think that it’s happening.”
Franz said the crime trend started on the West Coast about five years ago.
“In Cincinnati we’ve not actually caught anybody with one of these, so we don’t know for a fact that’s what they’re using. We suspect it based on some video that’s made its way out,” Franz said. “One person stands next to the house or the building that the keys are in. It’s a little key fob, and their device picks it up, amplifies it, sends it to a second device that the guy that’s breaking into the car with manipulates to open the car door up and ultimately turn the car on and drive off.”
Franz recommends purchasing a small faraday bag, which are sold online. The bag is supposed to block the key fob’s signal, preventing hackers from communicating with the key fob.
Another alternative, according to a local locksmith, is a pouch that blocks RFID signals. The store started selling them a few weeks ago. The product has a nylon pouch made of signal blocking material.
“They’re selling them all over the country, and it’s a very hot item right now, especially in tourist areas,” said Glen Fessenden, owner of Allied Lock and Door Service Co. on Warsaw Avenue.
WLWT put the pouch to the test.
Once the key fob was placed inside the pouch and sealed shut, our crew was no longer able to lock, unlock or start an SUV with a keyless ignition start.
Franz likens the pouch and faraday bag to the protective bags used to store passports and credit cards to protect them from being compromised. Both items can cost less than $10 and can be found online or in some tech stores.