Beware of Relay Theft

car keys with fobKeyless entry is one of the most convenient features of newer cars. There’s no more fumbling for your keys when your arms are full of groceries or you’re toting a squirming toddler. Just press the “unlock” button to get inside and the “start” button to get the engine powered up, and your car will pick up the signals from your key fob.

Unfortunately, though, this user-friendly feature is also a favorite for car thieves. Security experts are warning of a relatively new scam centered on key fobs. In this scam, thieves use a simple device to pick up the signal from a vehicle’s key fob and use it to steal the car. What is very scary about this one is the fact that the fob can be safely hidden inside a car owner’s pocket or home while its signals are being hacked.

Here’s all you need to know about this scam and to learn how to protect your vehicle.

How it plays out

With keyless entry, the hotwiring car thief is a thing of the past.

The key fob scam, or “relay theft,” is frighteningly easy for people to pull off. Criminals purchase relay boxes, which are available on eBay and Amazon. They then use these devices to hijack the signal from a nearby key fob.

The boxes come in pairs, allowing the crooks to set up one box as close as possible to the probable location of the key fob, such as near a window or door to the car owner’s home. The second box is placed close to the car the criminal is trying to steal. The first box then reads the signal and “relays” it to the second box, tricking the car into registering the key fob as nearby. The thief can then unlock the car, start the engine and make off with the vehicle while the owner is oblivious to what is happening.

Keeping your key fob safe

Thankfully, protecting your key fob signals from being hacked is easy. All you need is a little metal.

You can achieve this protection by securely wrapping your key fob in a small piece of aluminum foil. The foil will block the electromagnetic signals of the fob, making it impossible for a relay box to pick them up. A foil-wrapped key may look strange, but the key fob can be safely kept in a pocket when you’re out, and inside a kitchen drawer when you’re home, so no one has to know about it.

You can also choose to invest in a specially designed Faraday bag to keep your car safe. Retailing on Amazon for just a few dollars, these metal-lined pouches will block your fob’s signals from being read. There are also metal-lined key wallets on the market that serve the same purpose.

It’s best to test out the effectiveness of your signal blocker before using it for the long term. Wrap your key fob in foil or place it inside your Faraday bag or metal-lined wallet, stick it in your pocket and sit in the driver’s seat of your car. Try to start the vehicle. The car should not be able to detect the key fob. If it revs up as usual, the blocker is ineffective.

Protecting your car

If you’d rather not bother with foil and Faraday bags, you can also go the old-fashioned route and protect the car itself from possible theft.

One way to achieve this protection is through a steering-wheel lock. These locks work with actual keys that can’t be hacked. You won’t have a completely keyless entry and startup any longer, but it’s a small price to pay for the protection of your car. If a car thief hacks your key fob’s signal and starts the engine of your car, they won’t be able to drive off. The sight of the lock on your steering wheel can also serve as a deterrent for would-be thieves.

  • You can also protect your car from relay theft by keeping it out of sight and parking it in a garage.
  • If you own a pricier vehicle, it can also be worthwhile to invest in a security system.
  • Don’t let those scammers get your car! Take the precautions necessary to keep your key fob and your car safe from relay theft.

Your Turn:
Do you own a car with “keyless entry”? How do you protect it from relay theft? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
homemaking.com
abcnews.go.com

 

Protect Yourself from Identity Theft!

When your personal financial information gets into the wrong hands, the consequences can be devastating. It’s critical to understand how identity theft and card fraud can happen to you. The information provided here will help you avoid becoming a victim and tell you what you can do if your identity is stolen.

What to do if your identity is stolen
If you should fall victim to identity theft, it is important that you act quickly. Contacting the correct agencies and filing the necessary reports will go a long way toward minimizing any damage to your financial well-being.

Financial Institutions and Credit Card Issuers
Report the theft to your credit card issuers and request replacement cards with new account numbers. Ask your bank to close affected accounts and obtain new account numbers there as well. If you have checks stolen, you can also ask your bank to stop payment on any checks about which you are unsure.

Law enforcement
Report identity theft to your local police department. If the crime occurred somewhere other than where you live, you may wish to report it to law enforcement there as well. The police will create an “identity theft report” and give you a copy.

Credit Bureaus
Immediately contact the fraud departments of each of the credit bureaus – Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Alert them that you are a victim of identity theft, and request that a fraud alert be placed in your file. You can also request a security freeze, preventing credit issuers from obtaining access to your credit files without your permission. This prevents thieves from opening up new credit cards or other loans.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
The FTC does not investigate identity theft cases, but they can share information that you give them, such as the identity theft report number, with investigators nationwide.

Simple Ways To Protect Yourself
There are some simple steps you can take to reduce or minimize the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft or card fraud.

Practice safe Internet use – Delete spam emails that ask for personal information and keep your anti-virus and anti-spyware software up-to-date.
Shop online only with secure web pages – Check the bottom of your browser for an image of a lock or look for “https” in the address bar.

Never send via email – Never send credit or debit card numbers, social security numbers and other personal information via email.

Destroy personal financial records – Tear up or shred credit card statements; ATM, credit, or debit card receipts; bank deposit receipts; loan solicitations; and other documents that contain personal financial information.

Secure your mail – Empty your mailbox quickly and get a mailbox lock. When mailing bill payments and checks, consider dropping them off at the post office or a secure mailbox.

Be careful with your Social Security number –  Your social security number is a major target for identity thieves because it can give them access to your credit report and bank accounts. Never carry your card with you. Instead, memorize your number and keep the card in a secure place at home or in a safe deposit box. Never write or print your social security number on checks. You may also ask your employer to remove your social security number from your pay check stubs.

Check your credit report at least once a year – Obtain and review your credit report for suspicious activity. We can review your credit report with you here at the credit union, or  you can request a free copy of your report at www.annualcreditreport.com or by contacting any one of the three major credit reporting agencies; Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.

Beware of scams – Always be on the defensive with your financial information. Never give out personal information to telemarketers or respond to emails from someone claiming to represent your credit union, credit card issuer, a government agency, a charity, or other organization. If you think the request is legitimate, contact the agency directly to confirm their claims.

Tips For Frequent Travelers
When you travel be on the alert for opportunities that thieves may try to take advantage of.

Receipts – Do not leave credit card receipts on the table at restaurants; sign them and hand them directly back to the server. Keep your copy of all receipts.

Wallets – Stolen wallets frequently lead to identity theft, so instead of carrying your wallet in your pocket or having it easily accessible in your bag, use travel pouches that are worn inside your shirt.

Checks – Leave checkbooks at home in a locked safe or drawer. Checking account takeover is one of the hardest types of financial fraud to clear up.

Camera phones – That tourist with a camera phone may actually be taking a shot of your credit card or driver’s license. Keep important personal information out of view from others.

Hotels – Lock up all valuables in room or hotel safes while you are out, including laptops, passports and other documents that contain your personal identifying information. Do not leave these items with a hotel doorman to transport or hold—carry them yourself.

Airplanes – Do not put any items that contain your social security number, card numbers, or financial institution account numbers in checked luggage. Always carry that with you.

This content is used with permission of Visa, Practical Money Skills for Life.