This “Mystery Device” Can Unlock and Start Your Vehicle

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The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) says new technology is being used to not only unlock and open vehicles, but to also start and steal them.

NICB recently obtained one of the so-called “mystery devices” that the public was first warned about over two years ago. At the time, thieves were being seen on security cameras across the country, using unknown devices to unlock vehicles and steal valuables inside. In recent months, NICB has noted reports of thieves not only opening the vehicles but also starting them and driving away.

The device obtained by NICB was purchased via a third-party security expert from an overseas company. It was developed by engineers in an effort to provide manufacturers and other anti-theft organizations the ability to test the vulnerability of various vehicles systems. Called a “Relay Attack” unit, this particular model only works on cars and trucks that use a keyless remote and a push-button ignition.

mysterydeviceinfographic-photoversion-final-113016-webIn a series of unscientific tests at different locations over a two-week period, 35 different makes and models of cars, SUVs, minivans and a pickup truck were tested. We partnered with NICB member company CarMax, because they are the nation’s largest used car retailer and have nearly every make and model in their inventory. Tests were also done at a new car dealership, an independent used car dealer, at an auto auction and on NICB employee vehicles and ones owned by private individuals.

The vehicles were tested to see if the device could:
* open the door
* start the vehicle
* drive it away
* turn off and restart the engine without the original fob present

deviceinaction

NICB was able to open 54% of the vehicles that were tested.

The NICB was able to open 19 (54 percent) of the vehicles and start and drive away 18 (51 percent) of them. Of the 18 that were started, after driving them away and turning off the ignition, the device was used to restart 12 (34 percent) of the vehicles.

NICB says there are a number of different devices believed to be offered for sale to thieves. Some use different technology and may work on different make and models and ignition systems. More expensive models may have a greater range and better capabilities for opening and starting a vehicle.

“We’ve now seen for ourselves that these devices work,” said NICB President and CEO Joe Wehrle. “Maybe they don’t work on all makes and models, but certainly on enough that car thieves can target and steal them with relative ease. And the scary part is that there’s no warning or explanation for the owner. Unless someone catches the crime on a security camera, there’s no way for the owner or the police to really know what happened. Many times, they think the vehicle has been towed.”

Wehrle says it’s important for law enforcement officers to be aware of this threat and be on the lookout for thieves who may be using the technology.

According to NICB’s Chief Operating Officer Jim Schweitzer, who oversees all NICB investigations, vehicle manufacturers must continue their efforts to counter the attacks on anti-theft technology.

“Vehicles are a valuable commodity and thieves will continue to wage a tug of war with the manufacturers to find a way to steal them,” said Schweitzer. “Anti-theft technology has been a major factor in reducing the number of thefts over the past 25 years. The manufacturers have made tremendous strides with their technology, but now they have to adapt and develop countermeasures as threats like this surface.”

A look at the "mystery device" obtained by NICB.

A look at the “mystery device” obtained by NICB.

While there may not be an effective way of preventing this kind of theft at this time, NICB advises drivers to always lock their vehicles and take the remote fob or keys with them. Drivers should also be on the lookout for suspicious persons or activity and alert law enforcement rather than confronting a possible thief.

It’s also a good idea to never invite a break-in by leaving valuables in plain sight. And once thieves get inside, they can easily steal a garage door opener and valuable papers such as the vehicle registration that could lead them to your home. So take the garage door opener with you and take a picture of your registration on your cell phone rather than keeping it in the glove compartment.

 

‘Tis the Season to Steal

cr122k15-gift_car_openerWhen you’re making the rounds at the stores this holiday season, make sure your car isn’t on someone’s gift list. Unattended vehicles, especially those loaded with valuables, make attractive targets for thieves.

New data released today by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) shows a total of 9,600 vehicles were reported stolen in 2015 on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Holiday vehicle thieves had their busiest day in 2015 on Halloween, stealing 2,238 vehicles according to NICB’s 2015 Annual Holiday Vehicle Theft Report. Theft data is culled from the National Crime Information Center’s (NCIC) stolen vehicle file, which showed a total of 759,237 vehicle thefts for the year.

After Halloween, New Year’s Eve was the next most active holiday with 2,227 thefts. Labor Day came in third with 2,171 thefts followed by Christmas Eve with 2,071 thefts. Memorial Day rounds out the top five holidays for 2015 with 2,040 thefts.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the holidays with the fewest thefts in 2015 were: Christmas Day (1,620); Thanksgiving (1,653); Valentine’s Day (1,690); President’s Day (1,787) and Independence Day (1,981).

Holidays ranked by the number of thefts in 2015 were:

  1. Halloween (2,238)
  2. New Year’s Eve (2,227)
  3. Labor Day (2,171)
  4. Christmas Eve (2,071)
  5. Memorial Day (2,040)
  6. New Year’s Day (2,029)
  7. Independence Day (1,981)
  8. President’s Day (1,787)
  9. Valentine’s Day (1,690)
  10. Thanksgiving (1,653)
  11. Christmas Day (1,620)

While the holiday with the most thefts was Halloween, the most thefts on a single day in all of 2015 occurred on Monday, June 15, with 2,579.

A special feature included in today’s report is a look at vehicle thefts occurring on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, which is widely viewed as the start of the holiday shopping season. In recent years, many national retailers have launched Black Friday specials on Thanksgiving evening while families may still be carving their turkeys.

The lure of added shopping hours—and the presence of unattended vehicles in store parking lots—may be contributing to higher vehicle thefts on Black Friday.

The following graph shows the number of vehicle thefts reported on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday from 2011 through 2015. There are, on average, over 30 percent more vehicle thefts on Black Friday than the day before. Moreover, the 2,244 thefts on Black Friday in 2015 were more than the 2,080 average daily thefts for the entire year.

 Year Thanksgiving Day  Black Friday   % Increase
2011  1,526 2,034 33
2012  1,656 2,077 25
2013  1,353 1,750 29
2014  1,384 1,838 33
2015  1,653 2,244 36


NICB reminds drivers this holiday season to make sure your vehicle is locked when unattended. Don’t leave spare keys or FOBS inside. Take a moment and be sure to hide your valuables from view. Even an empty backpack looks appealing to a thief from the outside.

If stopping at several locations to shop, remember to first store your packages in your trunk before leaving one destination for the next. Thieves are known to watch shoppers who place items in their trunks and then head for the stores—that invites trouble.

See the full holiday vehicle theft report here and an infographic here.

2015nicbholidaytheftreport

More Drivers Losing Their Cars By Leaving Their Keys In Them

keysincarLast year, a vehicle was reported stolen once every 45 seconds in the United States.  And one out of every eight thefts was a freebie for the thief.  There was a theft every six and one-half minutes where the driver left the keys or FOB inside.

It’s a growing problem according to the latest report from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).  The 57,096 thefts in 2015 amounted to a 22 percent increase over the previous year. Over the past three years, this kind of theft grew by 31 percent.

Since many people do not admit to leaving their car unlocked with the keys or FOB inside, the actual numbers of thefts with the keys left in vehicles may be considerably higher than the report indicates.

psa-keysincartheftsinfographic2016-finalalt-hq

“Anti-theft technology has had a tremendous impact on reducing thefts over the past 25 years, but if you don’t lock it up, it’s not going to help,” said NICB President and CEO Joe Wehrle. “Complacency can lead to a huge financial loss and inconvenience for the vehicle owner. Leaving a vehicle unlocked or with the key or FOB inside gives a thief the opportunity to take not only the car, but also any possessions inside. It can also provide access to your personal information if the registration is left in the glove compartment.

“We have reports from our law enforcement partners that car thieves have stolen the car, driven it to the residence and burglarized the home before the owner even knew the vehicle was missing.”

NICB advises drivers to:

  • Lock the vehicle, set the alarm and take all keys or FOBS.
  • Do not leave the garage door opener in the vehicle.
  • Take a picture of your registration on your cell phone and do not leave the registration or other papers with personal information in the vehicle.
  • Never leave a car unlocked and running to warm it up or while stopping for a quick cup of coffee. It only takes a moment for the opportunistic thief to jump inside and drive off.

For the years 2013 through 2015, a total of 147,434 were reported stolen with the keys left in the vehicle. In 2013, there were 43,643 thefts; 46,695 thefts in 2014 and 57,096 in 2015. From 2013 to 2015, the increase was 31 percent.

The top five states that posted the most vehicle thefts with keys during this reporting period were California (22,580), Texas (11,003), Florida (9,952), Ohio (8,623) and Nevada (8,073). The top five core-based statistical areas (CBSA) were Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV (7,815), Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI (4,380), Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA (4,118), Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL, (3,847) and Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD (3,365).

One state—Hawaii—had a perfect record. Not a single report of a vehicle theft with keys.

Looking at day-of-week data, Saturday saw the most thefts with (22,081) followed by Monday (21,851) and Friday (21,652).

The full report can be viewed and downloaded here.  The full dataset is here. Download an infographic here.

Halloween Is Fright Night for Car Thieves

car-thief-halloween

Halloween thefts for four of the past five years were higher than the daily average.

As Halloween approaches, there may be more than ghouls, gremlins and witches canvassing the landscape. How many car thieves will also be prowling the nation’s streets this Halloween disguised as trick-or-treaters as they case neighborhoods for their next target?

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) has been analyzing and reporting on vehicle theft activity for over 100 years. While we’ve published hundreds of reports about vehicle theft over the years, this is the first time we have approached the topic to see what effect, if any, Halloween has on vehicle theft.

NICB examined 2011-2015 vehicle theft data contained in the National Crime Information Center’s (NCIC) Stolen Vehicle File to produce daily reported theft totals and then pulled the numbers for October 31—Halloween. The result is a straightforward presentation of theft statistics linked to Halloween, the annual celebration with roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain.

The average daily theft totals for each of the past five years was determined and then compared with the thefts reported on Halloween. Halloween thefts for four of the five years were higher than the daily average. One year, 2012, had fewer thefts.

halloweenthefts2015

So, the question remains. Is there a link between Halloween and vehicle theft? Is the behavior of vehicle thieves affected by this annual celebration? Maybe. But during the last five years the data shows more theft activity on October 31—and that’s no trick, or treat.

 

 

These Boots Weren’t Made For Stealing….

In this edition of Fraud Files we take a look at the theft of over 3,500 boots in an alleged cargo theft in Texas. An insurance claim was paid for over $400,000 for the loss, but in August authorities went undercover and arrested two suspects for trying to sell the stolen items.

Hurricane Matthew Could Bring a Storm of Fraudsters

As Hurricane Matthew begins to approach Florida and the southeastern part of the United States damage and significant flooding is expected. The National Insurance Crime Bureau is warning residents of these areas to be on alert for contractor scams after the storm passes.

Becoming a victim of a natural disaster may be impossible to avoid. You can, however, avoid being victimized by dishonest contractors often found lurking in their wake.

After a natural disaster, salespeople go door to door in damaged neighborhoods, offering cleanup or repair services. While many of these businesses are honest and reputable, others are not. The dishonest ones may pocket the payment without completing the job or use inferior materials and perform shoddy work not up to code.

The NICB recommends these tips before you act on a contractor’s offer for services.

  • Work with only licensed and insured contractors.
  • Get more than one estimate. Don’t be pushed into signing a contract right away.
  • Get everything in writing.
  • Require references, and check them out.
  • Never sign a contract with blanks. Fraudulent contractors may enter unacceptable terms later.
  • Never pay in full.

For more tips you can download our disaster fraud brochure here.

Hail Bombs, Flooding and Stolen Vehicles Highlight NICB’s Fall Newscast

In this edition of NICB News we focus on the devastating floods in Louisiana, a major hailstorm in Colorado and check in at this year’s IASIU conference in Las Vegas.

To view more episodes of NICB News click here.

Fraud Files: Datsun Recovered After 29 Years

For 29 years the car was stashed in a storage facility gathering dust. That was until the storage fees stopped coming in and NICB was asked to investigate. What we discovered was a tale of a stolen vehicle, paid insurance claims and alleged murder.

To view more episodes of Fraud Files click here.

Catalytic Converter Thefts Still Smokin’

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) reports that from 2008 through 2015, there were 25,394 catalytic converter thefts across the nation. In 2008, there were 3,246 thefts of catalytic converters. That number rose to 3,986 at the end of 2015—an increase of 23 percent—according to a review of insurance claims data. These numbers reflect just insured thefts, so the actual number of all catalytic converter thefts is likely to be much higher.

For example, an online search of “catalytic converter thefts” produced news stories describing this activity occurring from Michigan to North Carolina and from California to New York—just this summer alone.

Catalytic Converter Thefts

Insured Thefts of Catalytic Converters Are Up 23% Since 2008

California is the state where the overwhelming majority of catalytic converter thefts occurred during this time frame—8,072. It was followed by Texas (1,705), Illinois (1,605), Ohio (1,439) and Georgia (1,215).

The top five cities where insured thefts were reported were: Chicago (980), Sacramento (850), Los Angeles (550), Atlanta (407) and Indianapolis (353).

The full report is available here and the complete dataset is here.

Why catalytic converter thefts?

Stolen metals have been converted into cash by scrap metal operators who may have been acting within the law, but who may also have unwittingly enabled the proliferation of these kinds of thefts by providing a cash conversion point for purloined materials. As these kinds of thefts intensified–often disabling roadway lighting and airport runway lighting—they captured the attention of lawmakers around the country who, eventually, passed tough, new recycling laws to tighten regulations over metal recyclers.

But unlike base metals and other materials, catalytic converters are unique in that they each contain a small amount of one of three precious metals: platinum, palladium, or rhodium. The presence of those metals is what drives catalytic converter thefts as they can easily bring anywhere from $20 – $240 in recycling value depending on the amount and type of precious metal they contain.

An aggressive thief can easily collect 10-15 or more converters in a single day. They often target sport utility vehicles (SUVs) because their ground clearance is sufficient for the thief to gain access to the converter without having to deploy a jack. And that saves time.

While the replacement of a catalytic converter alone may be relatively inexpensive, many times vehicles are significantly damaged in the theft process making repairs much more costly. NICB recommends that consumers–particularly owners of SUVs—consider taking some preventive measures to deter the theft of their catalytic converters. Etching the catalytic converter with the vehicle identification number (VIN) is an effective deterrent and there are after-market security devices available as well.

100,000+ Insured Vehicles Soaked in Louisiana

The August downpours that dumped more than 30 inches of rain in two days on parts of Louisiana have left as many as 100,000 cars and trucks damaged – and that’s only counting insured vehicles.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), says claims reporting and vehicle recovery efforts that were initially slowed by the large scale flooding are now in full swing and, according to the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles, the numbers are much higher than originally expected.

Based on the extensive vehicle losses following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Louisiana enacted strong measures to help protect unsuspecting consumers from buying a flood-damaged vehicle. Once an insured vehicle has been determined by the insurer to have been flood damaged it is towed to one of the auction facilities and processed with a new title that indicates it has been water damaged. In Louisiana, during an emergency like the recent flooding, the severity of flood water damage may require a Certificate of Destruction. In that case, the vehicle has to be crushed, or sold to a company that will dismantle it for parts and destroy what remains. The vehicle identification number (VIN) is entered into the state’s records, NICB’s VINCheckSM, and the National Motor Vehicle Title Identification System (NMVTIS) so that the consumers can check a vehicle history before purchasing a used car or truck.

Flooded vehicles that did not have insurance coverage are a major concern as they are frequently cleaned up to hide the damage and then sold to unsuspecting consumers with no indication of a problem. The number of uninsured vehicles that were flood damaged may be even more than the number of insured vehicles since many owners choose to drop their policy’s comprehensive coverage as the vehicle ages.

“It’s buyer beware,” said Commissioner of Motor Vehicles Karen St. Germaine, who warns those in the market for a used car both in state and across the country to do their homework before putting any money on the line.

Tips

  • Look for water stains, mildew, sand or silt under the carpet, floor mats, and dashboard, and in the wheel well where the spare is stored. Look for fogging inside the headlights and taillights.
  • Do a smell test. A heavy aroma of cleaners and disinfectants is a sign that someone’s trying to mask a mold or odor problem.
  • Get a vehicle history report. Check a trusted database service. You can check NICB’s free VINCheck database and the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicle’s site. There are also reliable services that charge a small fee for history reports.
  • Have a trusted mechanic inspect the car’s mechanical and electrical components, and systems that contain fluids, for water contamination.

For more tips click here.

NICB and state officials, including the Louisiana State Police, work closely to pursue possible insurance fraud and vehicle theft. If you suspect fraud, call the NICB Hotline at 800-TEL-NICB (800-835-6422).