The National Insurance Crime Bureau is warning car owners that thieves have figured out a way to defeat key-less entry systems on vehicles.

Key-less entry is a popular feature on newer cars, thanks to its convenience:  car owners press a button on their key fob, which sends a radio signal that engages the electronic door locks on the car.

However, the NICB reports that thieves have been using small, handheld “scanner boxes” that can open some factory-made car locks. Thieves will typically roam parking lots and streets with these devices, looking for cars to unlock. Once the doors are unsecured, they will quickly steal personal items inside.

“Our law enforcement partners tell us they are seeing this type of criminal activity and have recovered some of the illegal devices,” said NICB President and CEO Joe Wehrle. “And unfortunately, some of these devices are available on the Internet.”

The NICB said car owners can reduce the risk of being a victim by taking the following precautions:

  • Always lock your vehicle, no matter where you leave it.
  • Close windows and sun roofs.
  • Hide personal items, including navigation systems, suction cup device holders, and phone or electronic device power adapters.
  • Put your shopping bags out of sight, in the trunk.
  • Conceal any visible cargo.

The NICB is a not-for-profit organization supported by more than 1,100 property and casualty insurance companies and self-insured organizations.  The NICB works to prevent, detect and defeat insurance fraud and vehicle theft through data analytics, investigations, training, legislative advocacy and public awareness.