‘They took the car with no keys’: Man warns of sophisticated way to steal vehicles

Devices can mimic fob frequency

MADISON, Wis. – A Dane County man has a warning after reporting his car was stolen without the thief ever having his car keys.

Jon Heller owns AA1 Junk Car on Madison’s north side. For ten years, he’s poured himself into his 2005 Crown Victoria just to have it taken away overnight.

“That car was my son to be honest; my dad is gone from coronavirus. I don’t deal with my family much,” Heller said. “I have my daughter and I have my car. It’s been with me a long time.”

On the morning of July 5, he was shocked to find his locked car was missing from his lot, especially considering he still had the only key for it. He said he reported it missing, then started his own investigation, even more surprised to see what he found on video.

Surveillance footage shows three men who appear to be checking vehicles that belong to Heller and his neighbors. It also shows one of the men holding what Heller believes is a gun.

“If somebody came out here, they were ready to shoot them, probably,” Heller said. “I don’t want to die for my car, but I don’t want people stealing what I work hard for.”

From the video, Heller thinks the men were using a device that can pick up on the signal sent by a car’s key fob and use that to unlock doors.

Once the men got into Heller’s car, he said they had to hotwire it to start it. But he said the men were able to unlock and then start a car in his neighbor’s lot using the same device. That technology exists and has been used to steal cars, especially those with keyless ignition, as reported elsewhere in the country.

“They took the car with no keys — with a device that scanned the car and started it up and unlocked it and they drove it away,” he said. “All they have to do is be within the reader’s range to be able to access your car’s information from the fob, then trick the car into believing they are the fob, and they can just drive your car away.”

With two cars from his neighbors and his gone after that night, Heller doesn’t want the men he believes stole them getting away, too.

“They need to be stopped,” he said.

Heller said he reported the incident to authorities. He’s been told he’s within the Dane County Sheriff’s Office’s jurisdiction, but said no one has been out yet to talk with him.

News 3 Now has a message in to the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, but as of Thursday night, has received no information on the incident or whether this type of technology has been reported in the area.

The Madison Police Department said they don’t have any information to add to the story.

A number of area locksmiths told News 3 Now they haven’t heard of this being an issue specifically in Madison, but some were aware of it occurring elsewhere in the country.

Certain protective bags are made to keep fobs protected from interference.