Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Drivers at the mercy of thieves' device

Fob imitators make stealing from cars easy

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Sam Kravsov

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A small electronic gadget that's made its way into the hands of petty thieves has Sam Kravtsov frustrated in a big way.

The Amber Trails resident has little recourse but to sit and wait for his Nissan truck to get broken into on a regular basis, thanks to a device that mimics a vehicle's keyless-entry system. The fob imitator, which can be bought online for as little as $5, illegally unlocks any door of certain types of vehicles (those with the targeted frequency) with the push of a button.

Unfortunately for Kravtsov, his truck, which is parked outside his home nightly, syncs up with the device.

"There's nothing I can do, unless I get a new truck," he said. "I'm pretty sure the thieves are just going up and down the streets, pressing the buttons, and seeing which cars respond. Then they go through and take what's inside."

Kravtsov has been broken into five times in the last three years. He's lost a GPS, a pair of expensive prescription sunglasses and a lot of patience. After the first few times, when items of value were stolen, he's made a point of keeping nothing in his truck.

'(Police officers) tell me they've never heard of such a thing and there are no reports. Well, I'm telling you about it now' -- Sam Kravtsov (below)

That doesn't mean the crooks haven't been snooping around, though.

"They just toss the truck, looking for something to grab," he said. "Tuesday, I made a point of deliberately locking my doors and my windows in the evening. The next morning my wife tells me the windows are down. I'm getting quite annoyed now."

That annoyance has escalated to anger following his interactions with Winnipeg police on the matter. Kravtsov claims attempts to file reports on this type of break-in -- one that involves no trace of entry -- have been met with by suspicion and indifference from officers.

"They tell me they've never heard of such a thing and there are no reports," he said, frustration building as he recounts his three-hour wait to make a report on the phone Wednesday. "Well, I'm telling you about it now."

Winnipeg Police Service spokesman Const. Eric Hofley said police have known about the electronic vehicle-entry device for some time now. But with no damage to the vehicle or trace of a break-in, it's difficult to know if someone is just making up a story to make up for their own carelessness.

That said, Hofley insists the police treat every call on these thefts the same way.

"We make sure all the keys for that vehicle are accounted for and take things from there," he said, noting the frustration on the police side in dealing with crimes using the wireless device.

"Is there damage to the vehicle? If there is no damage, then our investigators would look at the vehicle and see if it was a likely candidate for theft using this device.

"I can assure you, we take every incident of theft and vehicle break-ins very seriously," said Hofley.

This relatively new tool for car thieves only targets the door locks and windows (the two can be disabled to prevent third-party access). The device doesn't work on the vehicle immobilizer.

"We are familiar with it," said Manitoba Public Insurance spokesman Brian Smiley. "Some people use them for legitimately good reasons, as an extra key when they accidently lock their keys in the vehicle. It provides them an opportunity to get in.

"As we've seen, some people are using them to defeat the door locks and break into vehicles."

Smiley said conversations between MPI and customers are usually quick and to the point, based on the fact the Crown Corporation really has no role in the item-recovery process.

With wireless access available for thieves, there's typically no damage to the vehicle associated with the break-in. There's no smash-and-grab or manually manipulated door lock, meaning victims have to turn elsewhere to reclaim a phone left in the car or a GPS device stowed away in the glovebox.

"People would need to consult their home insurance provider in most of these cases," Smiley said. "If there's no damage, we don't pay out."

 

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 16, 2014 A13

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