How car thieves can hack your ride with new apps

How car thieves can hack your ride with new apps

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Stolen cars are a major crime in Memphis, and new technology may make you an easy victim.

As more cars are now connected to the internet and even have remote locking and starting features that can be activated via a key fob or an app, thieves have caught on.

Joshua Harvey loves cars, especially the Dodge Charger he got last year. That is, until one early morning last October.

“I was watching TV, getting ready for work, and I heard a noise outside and I wasn’t really sure what it was,” he said. “Then I heard sounds like my car was cranked, just the pipes went up. I went grab my keys and I went outside to see what’s going on, and the car was gone.”

He jumped in his wife’s car and tried to go after the car thieves.

He never caught up with them. Neither could police, who he says were already in the area.

Harvey says his car was locked. He had the keys and no glass was broken — so how did they get in the car?

“That’s what the police told me they probably had a programmer,  where they were able to just drive off with it,” he said.

Apps can open doors without breaking windows

Bennie Cobb, a retired Shelby County Sheriff’s captain who owns Eagle Eye Security, said the thieves likely used a programmer or an app. 

“They just get the VIN number from a program app and I guess, at that point, they were just able to crank the car and drive off,” he said. “We are in a new era today.”

Cobb said, whenever you don’t use a physical key, you open yourself up for hacking.

“With the era of electronics, the ability to defeat the lock without breaking the window or setting off the alarm with these smart phones and these other devices, it’s increasing, and it is going to continue to increase until the auto manufacturers or Congress can come up with something to prevent the lock from being defeated,” Cobb said.

Here are some things you can do

Steering wheel locks will slow a thief down. So will using the car’s inside door lock instead of a fob to lock your vehicle.

Cobb said experts have recommended wrapping your key up in aluminum foil. 

“They have these detection devices where you can stop your key fob from being detected by putting it in an electronic preventive pouch, or something as ridiculous as putting your key fob in the refrigerator when you are in the house,” he said. “That would stop your signal from being broadcast and stop somebody from picking up your security code.”

Many car manufacturers have also started using rolling codes that become inactive once they are used to unlock your car.  That makes it harder for theives to intercept and use the code.

Police eventually found Harvey’s car a few days after it was stolen. There was front-end damage, rear damage, all the airbags were popped. They took all his things out of the car and left shoes and drinks.   

He said it looked like someone had been joyriding in it.