A former truck thief is shedding light on how criminals are using altered keys to steal cars and what you can do to prevent it.
Regina police reported, to date in 2018, the number of stolen vehicles has jumped 45 per cent compared to last year. They’re also aware of thieves being able to unlock and start vehicles using what they call altered keys.
“It’s as simple as getting the hands on the keys, reprogramming it or programming a brand new key for that vehicle,” explained a former car thief who spoke to 980 CJME.
The man, who asked to remain anonymous, said he used to steal vehicles that were left unattended and running with the keys inside. He didn’t use altered keys but he knows and worked with others who did and was able to provide some insight into one possible high-tech method.
While his vehicle thefts were crimes of opportunity, he said the criminals who use altered keys are more organized than the average car thief.
One high-tech method uses generic, reprogrammable key fobs to steal newer vehicles with a keyless entry and ignition.
“I don’t know how they get the fake keys themselves but I know they had fake keys all the time.”
He claimed thieves can use a device to “scan” your keys from outside your home, even if they’re inside the house. Then he said all they need to reprogram their fake key is the VIN, visible on most vehicles through the windshield. He said they can reprogram keys in a matter of minutes.
“The fake key now becomes the real key and they easily just, bam, unlock your car, drive it away instantly.”
He explained he’s been a driver, taking these car thieves from location to location. They had key cutters, people that steal keys and people that reprogram them.
“It’s almost like a movie scene. They come into this house where they have their computer hackers,” he said.
He would take the thieves to the target vehicle and act as a lookout, driving around the block for a bit as they used the altered keys. He claimed sometimes these criminals would even profile the owner of a desired, higher-end vehicle to learn their routine.
If it’s an older vehicle that has a key fob to unlock the door but needs a physical key inserted into the ignition, they could just do it the old-fashioned way.
“I can steal a Honda Civic with a screwdriver,” he said.
Most vehicles have the VIN displayed inside the driver side door and on the dashboard on the driver’s side.
“Once they get your VIN number, you’re hooped.”
He said the best you can do to prevent thieves from stealing your car using an altered key is to cover your VIN with something like a piece of paper.
980 CJME could not confirm with Regina police if covering your VIN is illegal in Saskatchewan. A call requesting an interview on how altered keys are being used was not returned. Police said they wouldn’t go into detail because it’s too much like giving a tutorial on how to steal cars.
In an earlier release, police recommended using a steering-wheel locking device, park in well-lit areas, remove valuables and always lock your vehicle doors.