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SLO police warn of tech-savvy car burglars

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The SLO Police Department is telling residents to store their car keys in the microwave or the freezer—you know, whichever is more convenient. 

It’s just one of the ways the department says citizens can protect themselves from criminals using a cheap, new piece of technology to break into vehicles.

A recent alert from the department warned of a growing trend of car thieves in California using an electronic device called a power amplifier, which allows them to easily unlock vehicles and quickly pillage them for valuables. According to the alert, the amplifier takes advantage of the radio communication between the cars and the key fobs used by owners to lock and unlock vehicles.

“When a driver unlocks a car with a remote key fob, the car is communicating to the key by means of a unique radio frequency signal,” the statement from the SLOPD read. “Power amplifiers boost that signal strength, which makes the car ‘think’ the key is closer than it actually is. In this way, a thief could make the car ‘talk to’ the key fob, even if the fob is sitting on a counter inside the driver’s home.”

According to the department’s alert, one of the best ways to guard yourself against these would-be hackers is to keep vehicle keys in a place that blocks radio frequency signals, hence the advice to store keys in a microwave. The statement also suggests storing keys in the fridge, a metal box, or a specially made Faraday Cage—which can cost anywhere from $25 to more than $300 online—to thwart the high-tech car burglars.

Other suggestions including parking in a garage, which can serve as a barrier between the car and the device’s signals, and in older cars, disabling the remote entry when parking on the street.

The warning comes as the department is trying to cope with a rise in property crimes like vehicle thefts, vehicle burglaries, and residential break-ins in the city. Statistics from the department show that more than 1,600 property crimes were reported between July 14, 2015, and July 12, 2016, up from the 1,100 property crimes reported for the same period in 2014 and 2015. In April of this year, the department launched a public awareness campaign aimed at educating the community about how they can make their homes and cars less attractive to criminals. 

“Don’t make it easy on the bad guys” a flier released as part of the campaign stated. “If you give them an opportunity, they will take it.” 

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