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Post Office Box 15679
Long Beach California, 90815-0679
Phone: (562) 597-8000
Fax: (562) 597-9410
Feature Stories

Mystery Car Burglary Device Strikes Again

From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 19

By Steve Propes

What started out as a innovative feature in locking-your-car-technology, the remote keyless entry (RKE) has opened real-life doors for thieves by way of a so-called “mystery device.” They are not used to steal the car, but to rifle through possessions and take items of value. This makes the only obvious solution of not leaving anything of value in RKE cars left in driveways, parking lots or the like.

In Long Beach, the problem surfaced in the early morning hours of February 26, 2013, according to a police press release.

“Three suspects were caught on surveillance camera in an East Long Beach neighborhood utilizing small handheld devices to unlock vehicles before burglarizing them. They are able to access the two vehicles parked in the driveway after a handheld device is manipulated, causing the vehicle’s dome light to come on and doors to unlock. While this is taking place, a third suspect is seen walking on the opposite side of the street. On this particular night, eight vehicles in this neighborhood were accessed and burglarized.”

In the very early morning hours of September 7, 2013, the almost identical crime happened on the 20900 block of Ely Avenue in Lakewood, near Norwalk Boulevard and Centralia Avenue. In this case, the dome lights didn’t come on.

Ed De Groot, an Ely Avenue victim, lost an iPod and an expensive owner’s manual from his brand new 2013 Toyota Forerunner SR-5 he had owned for about a month.

Lakewood Sheriff auto theft detectives told him not to touch his vehicle so that fingerprints could be lifted. “My neighbor also had her car hit and they pulled prints off of that car too,” De Groot said.

Despite having prints, detectives told De Groot it is “not likely they will catch the guys,” whom he described from the neighbor’s video as “probably 18 or 19, white guys, one with a beanie and a hoodie, both skateboarders.” De Groot said they were using a “four by four square box in the palm of their hand, a jamming thing. It was a black box with no lights.

“The beeper didn’t go off and the lights didn’t flash. They hit my 2002 Forerunner in the street, put a black box to the driver’s door, tried to get in it, but it didn’t work.” The door of the 2002 Forerunner jammed when he tried to open it later that morning and he had to open a back door latch to restore it to working order.

Hardly sophisticated thieves, De Groot said, “They grabbed stuff out of my glove box onto my seat. That same night about a mile from here a lot of cars were hit, stolen at the end of my block. They also hit a brand new KIA SUV and a Suburban. They tried to open a 2006 Honda, but didn’t work. After they got done with this block, they hit Claretta Avenue,” which is one block over.

“They’re young kids, skateboarders and not going to spend $600 to $700 dollars for a decoding device that can pick up a frequency when you’re next to a car. They were very comfortable under my streetlights for five minutes, one guy watching, one guy doing it. He opened the side door and back hatch.”

Such entry would not be possible with older lock and key systems. A local Toyota dealership commented that the traditional lock and key system is available only on the entry level Corolla L. “Nobody wants it, there’s no reason to stock it.”

Code reading devices that are used to diagnose mechanical problems are widely available at auto parts stores and can be altered to capture codes for unauthorized entry as confirmed by Toyota Public Affairs spokesperson Cindy Knight. “We received training on that.”

They didn’t use a high dollar code reading device,” De Groot said. “These kids went down the street randomly popping doors. Their device gives the door a charge and the solenoid in the door pops the lock. The device is pretty easy to make and get their hands on.”

Toyota’s Knight confirmed RKE does present “a security issue. Cyber security is an emerging issue and every company is striving to stay ahead.”

Whether the consumer is better off with this new technology, Knight said, “I’m sure there are tradeoffs with any kind of new technology. The industry is aware and is working hard to prevent tampering with any electronic system. Industry and governmental agencies have gathered together to make sure electronics are secure.

“I have cars that have keys and I have those that don‘t,” Knight said, “The smart key means you don’t have to search for a key or search for your car. I’ve heard sentiments expressed that ‘I’d rather have an old-school key’.”

Anyone with information about the mystery-device burglaries should contact Long Beach Detective Joseph Starbird at (562) 570-7362 or L.A. County Sheriff Detective Gekas at (562) 623-3500.