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Car Theft In Fulton Market Neighborhood May Have Involved A Hack; 'We've Never Had This Kind Of Electronic Break Into The Vehicle'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- In the middle of the day on a busy Chicago street, two thieves got away with a locked car.

CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reports from Fulton Market on how thieves may have hacked their way into the vehicle.  

Surveillance video shows there was no broken glass or lock-picking required to steal the car. The neighborhood association worries that it was a much more high-tech heist. On Tuesday, CBS 2 went back to scene and traced the suspects' footsteps.

Surveillance cameras captured two men in black hoodies walking up and down the block on Thursday. They walk past a Volkswagen Golf sedan parked along the curb. They make a loop. They walk past it a second time and they open the car door, hop in and drive away.

"They didn't check the handle of the vehicle before they stole it," said Roger Romanelli, Exec. Director of the Fulton Market Association. "It just looked like there was some kind of electronic entry."

The Fulton Market Association's Executive Director said he's releasing the surveillance video and the screen shots of the suspects' faces in an effort to raise awareness in this neighborhood.

"We've had some cars stolen from valets right off the valet line. But we've never had this kind of electronic break into the vehicle and an automatic theft," Romanelli said. 

The Chicago Police Department confirmed the theft report but couldn't comment on how the car was stolen. Tony Dahlin, who owns a local locksmith company and serves as the director of security for an IT company, is aware of one possibility.

"There are products that you can purchase online from overseas that can capture those frequencies that are being transmitted from the vehicle to the car," said Tony Dahlin of Bullis Lock Co. & Current Technologies.

Cloning the signal needed to open the car, he explained, with the push of a button. In a 2016 study, researchers at the University of Birmingham said tens of millions of car are vulnerable to this kind of keyless hacking. They include many Volkswagen models as well as some Ford, Mitsubishi, Nissan and others. Dahlin said many of these companies are actively working on thwarting these kinds of hacks.

But in the meantime...

"There's very little that we can do now, other than park in populated areas. Have situational awareness. If you see something, take note," Dahlin said.

The Fulton Market Association said the Volkswagen was recovered over the weekend but at last check no one had been charged. Anyone with information is asked to contact Chicago Police.


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