Crime Investigators Warn on ‘Mystery’ Devices Used in Car Break-Ins

August 13, 2015

Law enforcement officials and theft investigators are concerned that criminals may be getting their hands on high-tech electronic devices that can be used to break into vehicles.

Also, they warn, these devices could be used to start and steal vehicles, although there are no vehicle theft reports of this nature yet.

At this week’s annual training seminar of the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) conducted a poll to gauge the awareness of the law enforcement audience concerning the so-called mystery theft devices.

Seventy-four percent said they believe these electronic devices can be used to unlock a vehicle, while 26 percent said they don’t believe these devices work.

In addition, 36 percent said they believe the devices can also be used to start and steal a vehicle, although so far, NICB says it has not been able to confirm a single reported vehicle theft in the U.S. using such a device.

Only eight percent said they had actually witnessed a device breaking into or starting a car.

Investigators says technology known as scanner boxes can override keyless entry systems now popular on vehicles. These small, handheld devices can be used to pop some factory-made electronic locks in seconds, allowing thieves to get into the vehicle and steal personal items left inside, according to NICB.

NICB Chief Operating Officer Jim Schweitzer said NICB began warning about the devices a year ago after receiving reports of theft of personal items from vehicles by criminals using high-tech electronic devices and since then awareness has increased.

“Last year this was barely a blip on the radar of law enforcement and theft investigators,” he said. “Now it’s getting everyone’s attention, including the manufacturers who are the front line of defense against these devices.”

According to NICB, some of these devices are available on the internet.

Speakers at the Phoenix seminar said recent publicity about hackers deliberately exposing the weaknesses in anti-theft technology may be a good thing.

“To the extent that this does drive more robust software code that is more difficult for some to crack, overall that’s a good thing,” said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, the former chief of the Auto Theft Bureau. “But trying to make an industry out of it? I think those are very questionable motives.”

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