Today, many cars on the road come with keyless entry/ignition or “smart fobs,” which allow the car to be unlocked and started without removing the fob from one’s pocket or purse. This convenience gives drivers more freedom to get in and out of their vehicles with their hands full, but can unfortunately lead to criminal activity or vehicle theft if done without caution.
The car and fob communicate using low-power radio signals that are only effective when the fob is within approximately 36 inches of the car door or ignition start/stop button. Some thieves have developed special equipment to amplify the communication signals between vehicles and their fobs. This can trick the car into thinking the fob is next to the car door, allowing the vehicle to be unlocked and started – even when the driver is not near their car.
Typically, thieves will steal from inside the vehicle – not steal the vehicle itself, because once the car has been driven out of range of its fob and shut off, it cannot be restarted.
It is important to always be vigilant of your vehicle and its surroundings, but this becomes even more crucial during the holidays, while parking lots are full of busy shoppers and thieves may be out and about.
AAA recommends drivers take the following precautions to protect themselves from potential vehicle theft as a result of a relay hack:
- Don’t leave valuable items (purses, GPS units, shopping bags or electronics) in your car. If you must do so, make sure they are out of sight in a locked glove box or trunk.
- If possible, park your car in a closed garage; this makes it a far less inviting target.
- Store your key fobs (all of them) in a metal container when not in use. The metal provides a barrier that interrupts radio signals to/from the smart fob.
- Alternatively, inexpensive “RFID sleeves” and “Faraday bags” are available that have metal mesh linings that will shield a key fob from sending or receiving radio signals.
- Do not place key fobs in a freezer or microwave oven, these methods may damage the fobs, which can cost hundreds of dollars to replace and program.