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Thieves stealing cars with $11 equipment

You would think that newer luxury cars would be much harder to steal. The cars have enhanced sensors so that the alarm goes off when a threat is detected. Some systems even notify you and the manufacturer’s support team.

But what if the alarm never goes off because your car wasn’t technically broken into? Thieves are using relatively inexpensive technology to mimic key fobs and trick security systems.

A lot of high-end brands offer a keyless entry system with “push to start” buttons. Instead of using the key to manually unlock doors or clicking the unlock button, the fob transmits a signal that unlocks the door. The signal has to be strong enough, which is based on the key’s proximity to the vehicle. Thieves can use transmitting devices to relay the signal so that the key appears to be near the vehicle.

Last month, a pair of thieves in Essex, England were able to use these transmitters to steal a $65,000 BMW X5. It was parked in a home’s driveway and they stole it early in the morning while the owners were asleep. One thief held a transmitter up to the car’s door and the other held it up to the front door of the house. The entire heist took about five minutes, watch the condensed security footage below.

Normally this equipment can cost a few hundred dollars but researchers from a Chinese security firm were able to build the two transmitter devices for only $22. Not only is their device cheaper, it’s also better because it can strengthen the signal to where thieves can steal cars that are more than a thousand feet away from the key fob.

Jun Li, one of the researchers, explained to Wired how easy it could be to steal a car in broad daylight: “You’re working in your office or shopping in the supermarket, and your car is parked outside. Someone slips near you and then someone else can open up and drive your car. It’s simple.” Watch Li’s video below to see how quickly the heist can work.

How to outsmart the thief

Luxury cars’ security systems will improve over time but you don’t have to sit back and wait. Until then, you can store your keys in a metal box or the fridge in order to block the signal they transmit. These cases also protect your smartphone, passport, ID, and credit cards from scanners that steal your information.

Sometimes the best way to get around a technical hack is with a manual approach. Steering wheel locks and pedal locks can be a second line of defense in addition to your car alarm or tracking system. Check out these wheel locks and brake locks from Amazon.

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