Got laptop, will steal cars

Modern car thieves use laptops to steal late model cars equipped with electronic ignitions.
Modern car thieves use laptops to steal late model cars equipped with electronic ignitions.

Rather than sketchy characters etching keys in wax, today's car thieves are stealing late model cars equipped with electronic ignitions using laptops, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

After thieves were observed on video in Houston using a laptop to start the ignition of a Jeep Wrangler and drive away, police posit the same process may have been used in at least four other incidents.

While admitting they're stumped as to how the car hijackers are doing it, police speculate they are somehow tapping into the automobile's computer and matching it with a key already in their possession to start up the car. An official with Fiat Chrysler this week said he believed the thieves “are using dealer tools to marry another key fob to the car.”

The technique has also been noted by the National Insurance Crime Bureau, which gathers data on car thefts. It reported starting to see police reports correlating thefts of newer-model cars to what it dubs “mystery” electronic devices, according to the report.

“We think it is becoming the new way of stealing cars,” the Journal quoted Roger Morris, vice president of the insurance industry trade group. “The public, law enforcement and the manufacturers need to be aware.”

Morris speculated that the thieves in Houston probably manipulated the car's computer with their laptop to link a signal sent from an electronic key that the culprit then employed to start the ignition. The computer, he said, registers the signal enabling the key to turn.

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