ST. GEORGE — It’s that time of year again when the number of car break-ins spike as warmer temperatures descend upon the region. Some thieves are going high-tech to steal valuables from a car using technology so advanced, it allows them to steal the owner’s identity without ever entering the car.
Vehicle break-ins spike during warmer months, which is a well-established crime pattern that keeps officers busy from spring to the end of summer. One example was a recent report in Santa Clara involving a couple that were arrested after fleeing into the parking lot of the Tuacahn Amphitheater.
The numbers continue to climb despite the fact that many cars are now equipped with engine immobilizers, on-board vehicle recovery devices and sophisticated alarm systems that have become standard in the quest to reduce the risk of a car burglary.
Last year was even worse with the rise in the number of car thefts and break-ins reported during the pandemic. In fact, data from Safewise compiled from FBI crime data shows a 6% increase in theft reports over the first six months of 2020 over what was reported the previous year, when other types of property crimes remained on a downward trajectory throughout the year.
High-tech spin on age old crime
Despite the fact that car manufacturers are continuously enhancing security technology, thieves are keeping up and are finding a myriad of new ways to get into a vehicle – none of which involve brute force.
An ever-increasing number of tools at their disposal has led to a significant spike in car break-ins across the country, and thieves are going high-tech to find the owner’s valuables, according to Outsider.
One tool that is gaining popularity for thieves is Bluetooth technology – a wireless transmission standard that a whole host of devices use to transmit data over short distances. The same technology used to pair a cell phone to another device, for example, is being used by criminals to find tablets, laptops, cameras, speakers phones and so on – basically the most targeted items a thief may want to steal.
In fact, there are Bluetooth scanners that can detect electronic devices hidden inside of a vehicle before it is even broken into.
Keeping valuables at home is the best option to prevent them from being stolen, according to safety experts. If that is not an option, then making sure the device is in airplane mode or entirely powered off can prevent it from emitting a signal, which is what makes the device discoverable.
Experts also warn that some devices may still emit trace Bluetooth signals while sleeping, so closing the lid on a laptop is not enough.
Key fobs and carelessness
Modern-day thieves are also arming themselves with another high-tech tool used to break into cars or to steal the entire vehicle using the same technology designed to make the vehicle nearly impossible to steal – the key fob. Thieves are now using a laptop and other electronic gizmos that will send out a signal to a parked car and it will search for their keys.
If a connection can be made, car thieves will then funnel a stream of access codes wirelessly to the vehicle’s computer until one of them pops the locks. From there, it figures out what code is needed to engage the push-button ignition, and all they need is a single preprogrammed blank key fob.
Infotainment system holds treasure trove of sensitive information
Car thieves are also finding ways to gain access to the infotainment system in the dashboards of the vehicle because they are typically synced to a smartphone, Security Magazine says.
These systems can be a treasure trove of sensitive information, including addresses, banking information, contacts and other sensitive data. These systems can be accessed by thieves if the owner forgets to turn off the Bluetooth setting on their cell phone.
In other words, thieves can hack into the car’s system and steal the owner’s identity without ever entering the vehicle.
Seasonal patterns and crime
Research suggests that seasonal patterns exist and involved similar fluctuations that tend to reoccur during roughly the same time each year and are impacted by environmental factors, such as temperature changes and daylight hours. Property crimes tend to increase during the warmer months.
In Utah, warm weather often ushers in car burglary season and year after year followed by a warning to the public to keep their vehicles locked and their valuables hidden or stored elsewhere.
Last year, reports of multiple vehicle burglaries began in February with a string of break-ins reported at area trailheads in the Santa Clara-Ivins area involving a Florida couple who were arrested after attempting to purchase more than $3,300 in gift cards using bank cards allegedly taken from on of the vehicles.
The incidents prompted police to issue a warning to citizens to be more vigilant. Considering it only takes three seconds to break a car window and steal a purse, authorities also recommend that any valuables should be kept at home.
That same month multiple vehicle burglaries and other fraud cases were reported in St. George and Hurricane that began when police received three calls within minutes reporting suspicious activity at Smith’s Marketplace on Mall Drive.
In August another rash of vehicle burglaries were reported and two suspects were arrested on more than a dozen felony charges when the pair reportedly stole several credit and bank cards which they used to make purchases at a number of businesses throughout Washington County.
To the north, there were at least a dozen vehicle burglaries reported in the northeast and southeast areas of Cedar City in April of last year that authorities believed were connected and “the same person or group of people is responsible for many of the incidents,” Cedar City Police Sgt. Clint Pollock told Cedar City News at the time of the April report.
“Usually when we have a rash or a string of vehicle burglaries, it’s typically the same person when we’re getting them so frequently,” he said. “We can speculate that it’s possibly the same people doing it, but right now we just don’t know.”
Officers in Mesquite Nevada have not seen a recent spike in the number of car burglaries, Mesquite Police Sgt. Wyatt Oliver said, but the agency has seen an uptick in the number of cars reported stolen – so basically, they aren’t breaking into the cars, he added, but are taking the whole car.
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