Verify: Are thieves using your key fob to break into your car?

A Maryland man said thieves hit his car in the middle of the night, but they didn't leave any evidence behind.

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) - A Maryland man said thieves hit his car in the middle of the night, but they didn’t leave any evidence behind.

Last month, Vincent Lewis said he locked his car and went to bed in Clinton, Md. but in the morning his sunglasses and change were gone. But his car wasn’t damaged.

Lewis called the police, then he reached out to Verify to ask, “Are thieves using keyless power amplifiers to unlock keyless entry cars?”

Our Verify researchers went right to the police. Both Prince George’s County and Montgomery County said they don’t have any documented cases of keyless devices being used in car break-ins. Specifically, Montgomery County Police said there have been 2,000 thefts from vehicles reported in 2017, but they can’t pin any of them on wireless theft devices. The Verify team asked, 'Why not?' 

In order to prove one of these devices was used, officers would need video evidence or a confession, according to Lieutenant Matthew Meterko of the Auto Theft Unit in Prince George’s County.  Lt. Meterko said even with cooperation from several agencies, it’s a tough task. 

“We’ll frequently speak with the auto manufacturers and with insurance companies, all of which have resources at their disposal to fully investigate a stolen car.  We’ll work with other entities to see if we can figure out how it’s done.”

Investigators said without proof, they can’t be certain the car owner didn’t simply forget to lock up.

So, case closed, right? Not so fast!

The Verify team set out to find out how the devices worked. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a power amplifier works by amplifying and capturing the signal of your fob back to the car. That boosts the signal range of the fob and then unlocks the vehicle. This can work even if your keys are in your pocket or in your home.

“That happens a lot where people steal cars. They break into them, they hook into the computer on the car and hook a laptop up to it. There’s software out there that will allow them to get the code and capture it and make a new key for it, basically,” said Roger Morris, Chief Communications Officer for the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

The NICB also conducted a study on how these devices worked. You can see the study here.

So yes, we can Verify thieves do have the technology to wirelessly break into your car by using your own keys against you. 

So how do you protect yourself?

The experts with AAA said don’t be fooled by blog posts that suggest putting your fob in the freezer or fridge.

“You don’t want to do that because it could damage the keys. These keys are expensive and could set you back hundreds of dollars,” says John Townsend, AAA Public Affairs Manager. Instead, wrap your key fob in tinfoil or put it in a clean, old paint can, to block the signal, said Townsend. 

Townsend said there are also some devices for sale which also do the trick. For example, Fobguard sells for about $30. 

© 2017 WUSA-TV


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