The Los Angeles Police Department is warning Southern California drivers about a growing car theft trend that targets keyless car entry remotes.
Investigators say more thieves are using an inexpensive gadget called a “power amplifier” to quickly unlock cars sitting in private driveways, clearing out valuables as owners sit inside their homes, completely unaware of what’s happening just a few feet away.
The I-Team reported on the new high-tech trick last month, speaking with a Los Angeles resident who recently watched the crime unfold right outside his window.
A thief rode up to Nick Bilton’s driveway on a bicycle and approached his Toyota Prius, says Bilton.
“She had a backpack on, and pulled out a device and then somehow unlocked the car,” Bilton recalled.
Bilton believes the device was a power amplifier, an electronic device that can be easily purchased online. It works by boosting (“amplifying”) the electronic signal strength of a keyless car remote, so the remote can “communicate” with the car to unlock it, even when the car is outside, and the key fob is yards away, inside a house or apartment.
Today, the Los Angeles Police Department told NBC4 that the high-tech trick is at least partially responsible for a notable spike in car burglaries in the Devonshire division (which includes Canoga Park, Chatsworth, Granada Hills, Northridge, North Hills, Porter Ranch, West Hills and Winnetka).
“We’re looking at 700 burglary thefts from motor vehicles, year to date, and that’s an increase of 35 percent,” said LAPD Officer Dario del Core. “It seems the rise … is attributed to these new electronic devices.”
Security experts tell the I-Team the best way to protect your car from this kind of crime is to store your keyless car fob in a place that blocks electronic signals.
One option is a “faraday cage,” which is a box or bag made of conductive material that blocks external static and nonstatic electric fields.
Keeping keyless car entry remotes in a microwave oven or refrigerator is another possibility.
After seeing how easily a thief gained entry into his Prius, Nick Bilton puts his keyless remote in his fridge.
“To watch someone that doesn’t have a key to your car or own your car walk up and pull the door handle and unlock it is a pretty scary thing,” Bilton said.