NOPD: Key fobs a serious weakness in car's security

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Keyless entry remotes and fobs for vehicles are convenient, but investigators warn they come with inconvenient and unintended risks.

The New Orleans Police Department is urging residents who use keyless entry to place their keys in the microwave, wrap them in foil or a foil-lined box, or in a radio frequency signal blocking bag. Bags blocking radio frequencies range from $10-$100 online.

Key fobs present a serious weakness in your car's security, NOPD said in an emailed response Monday.

Investigators said for less than $100, criminals can get an amplifier that detects key fob signals from up to 300 feet away and then transmits that signal to your car. A vehicle's key could be in a home, and criminals could walk up to a car and open it, according to the department.

"They're all about radio signals. You can't see them, but it's like invisible light," tech consultant Nam Nguyen said. "Some [keyless entry fobs] work a lot farther. There's many things that determine this. It's the manufacturer, how they program it, the life of the battery, is the battery old or is it new."

"Everything was locked up from when we parked it around five o'clock [Saturday night]," New Orleans resident John Woolf said.

Woolf swore he locked his Ford truck before it was stolen early Sunday morning in the 3700 block of Bancroft Drive. He left his keys in his truck but said he does so only because an entry code is needed to get inside, even if keys are locked inside.

"I don't care if [the vehicles] have the combination or what," Woolf said. "I'll never leave the key in the car again."

It is uncertain how thieves gained entry to Woolf's truck.

Nguyen warns devices in your home could act as amplifiers, as well.

"Sometimes the radio signals will bounce off the walls or bounce off of metal and just be reflected into the direction of your vehicle, maybe acting as an amplifier. There are different factors," Nguyen said. "Even while you're shopping, somebody with a transmitter can get your signal from your keys and then digitally transmit it to somewhere else where someone is near the car. Basically, they can extend it very far ranges."

The NOPD's Second District investigators said since the beginning of the year, 79 cars were involved in theft or stolen within the district. Of those 79 reports, 15 had no-force entry. Officers believe the person reporting the crime was incorrect about keys left in the vehicle or that the vehicle's key fob was in reach of the vehicle's remote starting system.

Investigators are uncertain if the signal was amplified in these instances.

Police also warn it is possible for someone to use an amplifier to start a vehicle and drive away with it. A car will give a warning to the driver the fob is not in the vehicle, but the vehicle can continue to operate even without the fob.

The vehicle will operate until the car runs out of gas or until the car's engine is stopped. Once the vehicle is turned off, it cannot be restarted, according to investigators.

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