Car burglars these days are more tech-savvy than most of us realize, and with just a smartphone or an app downloaded from the dark web, they can quickly find cars to break into where expensive electronics may be stowed in the trunk.
The police departments in San Francisco, Oakland, Vallejo and San Jose put out a joint warning late last week that victims of car break-ins are increasingly finding themselves targeted even if their cars appear totally empty. This is because electronics like cellphones, tablets, and laptops emit detectable Bluetooth signals even when they're in Sleep mode, and thieves are increasingly using their phones' Bluetooth sensors or the help of an illegal app to triangulate which vehicles will give them the most bang for their break-in buck.
The Chronicle reported on the alarming trend, although it sounds like it's nothing new. Police say that thieves have been using these technologies for a couple of years now, which explains why victims are sometimes targeted and robbed of expensive items that would not have been visible to the passing eye in their vehicles.
The only method for protecting yourself against this type of theft is making sure all devices are completely turned off — not just in sleep mode — if you're trying to stow them in the trunk or glovebox.
But then there are the break-ins that don't require any breaking in at all.
In Vallejo, young suspects have reportedly been mastering the use of small radio-frequency blockers to prevent people from properly locking their cars as they walk away from them. This enables them to quickly empty a car of pricy items without ever having to break a window.
Add to this the fact that viral videos in 2021 taught a whole generation of thieves that various Hyundai and Kia models are very easy to steal because they lack the immobilizer technology that prevents the car from moving unless a key fob is present — and now both companies are paying out a $200 million settlement over the issue.
The safest thing is never to park a car on a city street in the Bay Area at all. But if you must, take precautions, turn off electronics, and get one of those steering-wheel locks if you own a Hyundai or Kia.