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Security experts, police offer advice on how to prevent keyless car thefts

CBS2 talks to experts on how to avoid keyless car thefts
CBS2 talks to experts on how to avoid keyless car thefts 02:49

NEW YORK -- Car thefts are surging nationwide and now some thieves have figured out a hack to access key fobs, even if the fob is inside your house. They can then drive away with your car without the key.

As CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reports, there are simple fixes to protect yourself.

A Nassau County woman, who did not want to be identified, locked her car. Her keys, she thought, were safely in the kitchen.

"The keys were 100 percent in the house," she said. "Someone was that close and stole our car. It's just frightening and appalling."

Her recent car theft doesn't fit the pattern police have emphasized for months. Almost all stolen cars had been left unlocked with key fobs left inside.

Now owners are locking up, but tech-savvy thieves have figured out a workaround.

"It's a fob extender or a fob enhancer. It enhances the signal between the car and the fob," Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said.

Cybersecurity expert Jack Reedy explained the hack. The key fob emits a radio signal. Thieves, often working in pairs, use a device that captures the fob's signal and extends the range.

"They are capturing the radio signal from your key fob and then they are playing it again next to the vehicle," Reedy said. "Allows them to drive away with it."

What do thieves do once they drive off without your key? Experts say they have essentially cloned your key fob's signal and can use it over and over again to restart your stolen car.

"They basically got your fob," Reedy said. "It's literally they are taking a capture of and making a temporary new key fob in their hand."

"The unscrupulous individuals of the world have realized they can if the fob is close enough just walk up to the vehicle and jump and start it up," said Robert Sinclair of AAA Northeast.

A simple fix? Store the fob as far away as possible from the car and away from glass doors and windows. Or, buy an inexpensive RF-blocking box or pouch. It's lined with metal and will interrupt the signal.

Ryder says add another step to your routine to protect your investment.

"Take the fob in, lock the car, and now put in a pocketbook, put it in a bag, put it in your bedroom. Don't just leave it by a window," Ryder said.

Automakers are already onto this. Newest models have added layers of key fob verification.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau told CBS2 there is no conclusive evidence these devices are a contributor in the rising auto theft problem. Most victims left cars unlocked. Cybersecurity experts say the crime is vastly underreported because victims may have no idea how their car was broken into.

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