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).
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“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.