Police & Fire

Police Warn Car Thieves can Activate Key Fobs from a Distance, Offer Hints on How to Block Signal

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SPARTA, NJ – For the second time in two weeks luxury cars have been stolen out of Sparta residents’ driveways.  On July 29 Sparta police were called to a home on the report of a stolen 2016 Mercedes Benz GLA 350.  The car had been last seen in the driveway at 8 p.m. the night before, police report.

Sparta Lt.John Lamon said the key fob had been left in the unlocked car. 

Lamon said this is the third car stolen in two weeks.  A Mercedes and a BMW were taken in a similar fashion; the key fob was in the car and the car was unlocked.

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The criminals apparently have an app that can locate a key fob, up to 400 feet away.  “If the fob is in the house they move on to the next car,” Lamon said.

The Sparta police department is aware of a criminal enterprise that is operating in New Jersey out of Newark.  Lamon said research has shown that the apps used by criminals can even unlock and start the car by mimicking the fob’s signal.  So far, however, the criminals have not had to do that because the fobs are being left in unlocked cars.

Police recommend locking the car and bringing the fob inside the house.  With the app able to operate the car if the fob is within 400 feet of the vehicle Lamon said his research suggested creating a firewall to block the signal.  That typically entails putting the fob in a metal box.  Even wrapping the fob in foil is enough to interrupt the signal.  Lamon suggested an unused paint can would do the job.

"It's actually safer to have a car with a key ignition," Lamon said

The stolen cars are being used to commit crimes, including driving to steal other cars, “so getting a license plate number won’t necessarily help to catch the criminal,” Lamon said.  “The cars are also put onto containers and shipped overseas.”

Last year a similar rash of car thefts were reported.   At that time police were able to track down two of the stolen vehicles in Newark.  One was apparently going to be shipped as “it was undamaged. The other was found torched, having been used in a murder,” Lamon said. “They don’t hold onto the cars for very long.”

Residents are asked to call 9-1-1 if they see anything suspicious in their neighborhood, Lamon said. He cautions, however that they are professional criminals and should not be confronted. 

Sparta detectives are working with the Stolen Vehicle Task Force in Newark to find the thieves.  The vehicles have been stolen sometime after 11 p.m. so night patrols have been stepped up to do neighborhood checks in the late hours, according to police. 

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