Modern cars typically have a remote keyless entry or “smart keys” system. This allows you to control the door locks, ignition, trunk or tailgate on your vehicle without touching your key fob. It has definitely come in handy when your hands are full with groceries or you’re carrying a car seat. However, it has also made it easier for thieves to steal your vehicle. Let’s discuss how remote keyless entry technology and how it has made your vehicle more vulnerable to being stolen.

Residential auto theft on the rise

For the past several years, police have been seeing an increase in the theft of vehicles from residential driveways. Higher end vehicles, especially SUV’s, are the primary target of thieves in Ontario. These vehicles fetch large returns when they are sold abroad. Countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Central America and the Middle East are common stolen vehicle destinations. Stolen luxury vehicles are routinely being seized by Canadian Border Services agents. Border agents work in conjunction with both police and IBC investigators in port cities like Montreal, Halifax and Vancouver.

New technology, such as smart keys, has made stealing your vehicle easier. A pandemic-driven shortage of semiconductor chips needed for new cars has driven the increase in technology-fueled car theft. As the demand for these chips grows, so does the methods of acquiring them. Car thieves usually have set agendas for their stolen vehicles. Using illegal financial gain as motivation, the sale of the whole vehicles or “chopped” individual car components has become a lucrative business worldwide.

How does theft happen with smart technology?

Here are some of the current and up-and-coming methods thieves are utilizing to steal your vehicle from right under your nose:

“Gameboy” device

Investigators have made a recent discovery when it comes to new ways that thieves are stealing cars. Thieves are using a device that looks like an old-school Nintendo Game Boy. What does it do? It accesses potential targets by utilizing software that contains a database of thousands of car models.  Investigators believe that they then punch in the car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) into the device to start the car. Finally, all they need to do is hit a button on the device to unlock the car and initiate the push-button ignition. While still relatively new, the intricacies of the process is still largely speculative.

Relay attacks

Considered an ‘old school’ method, thieves utilize devices to capture the signal of your car key fob and then amplify it to open your car doors. A relay attack can happen on your driveway from a signal sent from the key fob inside your front door! Thieves can also follow you into a shopping mall to pick up the key signal from your pocket. Then, they transmit or ‘relay’ it to an accomplice that’s waiting near your car in the parking lot.

A relay attack requires two people working together. What’s more, some relay devices can pick up a signal from over 100 metres away! To determine your smart keys fob specific code, thieves cycle through countless combinations on their laptops or wireless relay units until they hit on the right one that unlocks your car door. Then, they can remotely turn on the ignition, allowing your car to be driven off. The equipment used in these attacks is neither expensive nor difficult to find. In fact, CBC News made a report on a rash of relay attacks of Toyota and Lexus models around the Ottawa area. The result? Thieves were using a $200 signal amplifier.

So, how can you prevent keyless car theft? According to CAA, you can store your keyless fobs in a metal box when not in use to block signals. Additionally, when you’re out in public, you can use a keyless fob protector pouch to block any signals from thieves.

For a list of the top 10 most stolen vehicles in Canada, click here.   

Using old and new technology

Experts say there’s an easier and cheaper solution that thieves are using instead of a relay attack: lock picks. These tools are available for under $60 on online marketplaces. Once inside the car, thieves typically plug a key programmer into the car’s On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) port. Key programmers are available for under $1,000 online. The OBD port is usually located under the steering wheel, and mechanics can plug in a diagnostic tool to the car’s computer from here. Thieves may use an electronic device typically used by mechanics to reprogram your vehicle’s settings. They can also program your car to accept a smart key that they have brought with them. This type of theft can be done on nearly any vehicle with a push-to-start ignition. Vehicles with physical keys require a separate tool to clone the key rather than those with smart keys.

To learn more about what to do after your vehicle is stolen, click here.  

Apple AirTags

A York Regional Police task force has recently found an increase in reports of Apple AirTags tracking devices that are hidden on cars. AirTags are small keyring-sized discs that you can attach to your bag or keys to help find them if they go missing. This useful technology, however, is ripe for abuse. You can place them in your car’s trailer hitch, within the gas tank or sometimes, in the front grill of your vehicle. Thieves will then use them to track you to a location suitable for them to steal your vehicle once you walk away. Thus far, car thefts involving AirTags seem to be rare, but the potential is there.

How common is auto theft?

As recent as January 2022, York Regional Police made arrests in conjunction with the recovery of 50 stolen vehicles. An investigation dubbed “Project Extinction”, was created to look into a rash of driveway thefts. York Police say that they were able to identify eight suspects in total, and executed searches at two residential addresses and one commercial address. Ultimately, the investigation seized 50 stolen vehicles valued at approximately $3 million, as well as $80,000 in cash!

There is no denying that the advancements in automobiles has made our lives much more convenient when it comes to driving. However, it is important for us to remember that it can also cause corruption. While remote keyless entry may offers us convenience, we all need to remain vigilant about protecting ourselves and our vehicles. Try implementing some of the strategies in the article above to help protect your investment!

If you have any further questions about ways to ensure you have the proper coverage for your car, call us today. We help our clients find the best auto insurance rates in Ontario including OttawaMississauga, and Toronto. Get a quote online or call us at 1-877-660-3501!

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