Are Car Thieves Getting Smarter?

Sep 13, 2021

A man in a mask tiptoes his way toward a parked car on a dark street. He looks around for bystanders before pulling a “slim Jim” out from under his trench coat. He works the tool down the window frame and listens for the lock to click. After gaining entry, he reaches under the wheel and pulls out some wires. Then he expertly touches two wires together, starts the car, and burns rubber.

This is the Hollywood version of car theft that most people conjure. Except it almost never happens like that anymore. Vehicles are more sophisticated, and technology gets fancier every year. But if that is the case, why is automobile crime growing?

A Growing Problem

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, monthly auto thefts increased on average 13 percent from 2019 to 2020, and another 9 percent in 2021. And in cities with more people working remotely, the numbers are even more pronounced. Los Angeles saw a jump of nearly 60 percent in vehicle theft in the summer of 2020.

The broad adoption of keyless ignitions in the 1990s led to a long run of plummeting car thefts. From 1991 to recent years, thefts dropped by more than 50 percent, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigations. But now that very same technology is contributing to a surge in car-related crimes. In nearly half of the reported car thefts in 2019, the doors were left unlocked and one in five victims left their keys in the car.

“This is a very stupid problem to have,” a Hartford police officer reported. “The technology that was created specifically to eliminate car thefts, such as key fob technology, is now being used against us.” There are many ways to leave a car vulnerable: Some drivers forget a key fob inside. Others take it, but leave the car on, allowing the vehicle to be driven away — though not restarted later. Some cars can be started if the key is just nearby. And in a smaller number of cases, criminals have used technology to reprogram keyless cars.

Putting Our Guard Down

So, when does convenience become negligence? So many vehicle owners have grown comfortable with leaving their cars running, doors unlocked, or keys left in a cupholder after parking a car.

Thieves are playing the numbers game. They recognize that a sizable percentage of car owners leave their cars unlocked. For an organized group, stealing a car is as simple as walking down a street and pulling up on door handles. One block of 30 houses can bring a sizable haul for even one thief looking only to steal valuables and run.

And other more sophisticated criminals have learned how to steal signals from key fobs in your house, using relay extenders. Others use devices that clone an owner’s car keys and many are legitimately available online. An enterprising thief can even use diagnostic equipment to plug into your OBD port and download data to create a spare key.

Fighting Back

If thieves are getting smarter, how can we fight back? Let’s start with the commonsense advice that any police department will share in their monthly newsletter. This is the same advice that someone might give a Model T owner in 1925.

  • Lock your car doors when you park.
  • Don’t leave your keys in the car.
  • Don’t leave your car running when you go into a store.
  • Park in well-lit areas.
  • Avoid leaving anything valuable in plain sight.

To prevent your car from being driven away, nothing quite compares with a wheel lock or steering wheel lock. These are mechanical devices that make driving nearly impossible. The downside is that any thief can still steal your valuables and operation is a hassle. Have you ever locked and unlocked a steering wheel lock ten times in one day?

If you want to dissuade a thief from breaking in and stealing your belongings, vibration-based car alarms and webcams can be effective deterrents. Thieves are more likely to avoid a car that might catch them on camera and certainly don’t want the attention that a loud alarm will draw. But more seasoned criminals toss the webcam out the window, and can disable a car alarm under the hood in seconds.

A Better Solution

For every benefit of today’s car theft deterrents, you can find several holes that thieves can easily manipulate. And for this reason, we founded Keep, a more sensible approach to security and safety.

Our car alarm contains two sensors that detect and warn thieves as they approach your vehicle. Our goal is to stop a thief in their tracks with a loud chirp and bright red lighting. If the perpetrator succeeds in entering your car, a 120-decibel alarm sounds (equivalent to an ambulance siren).

Simultaneously, our device records HD video and notifies your smartphone and our monitoring service, dispatching the police. Forget about throwing our device out the window. The Keep device anchors into your cupholder and is only removed by someone with our app tied to that device. Should the thief drive away, our device can be tracked with GPS. Location tracking and video footage make life easy for the authorities to convict the individual who committed the crime.

Are thieves getting smarter about car theft? Yes. But with technology like Keep’s car alarm, we can help you stay one step ahead.

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