Bait cars and glitter bombs. Former NASA engineer enlists I-Team's help to investigate SF break-ins

Dan Noyes Image
Wednesday, December 13, 2023
Bait cars, glitter bombs. ABC7 helps YouTuber investigate SF break-ins
Popular YouTube star Mark Rober releases video pranking those who break into cars in San Francisco with backpacks that shoot glitter.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Popular YouTube star, Mark Rober, just released a new video pranking those who break into cars in San Francisco.

The former NASA engineer built backpacks that shot glitter and a very foul odor at the thieves and recorded their reactions with hidden cameras.

This year, Rober enlisted the help of our own I-Team reporter Dan Noyes, who said, "It was really interesting to see how Mark Rober's mind works. The pranks are entertaining, but they also provide some valuable information about who's breaking into cars, and where the loot is going."

Mark Rober hadn't planned on making another Glitterbomb video. Then, his car got broken into in San Francisco this year.

"I'm missing a window. Not cool, San Francisco, not cool," Rober said.

So he launched his biggest effort yet -- set up bait cars with hidden cameras, placed backpacks inside with a newly-engineered special surprise.

A contraption that shoots glitter, emits a foul odor, and plays a countdown that invariably makes the thieves ditch the backpack.

Mark Rober told the I-Team, "It was really great working with you, Dan, because you're like a professional, you've been doing this for 40 years. I think the combination of both of us was like, is really interesting, because I get these things stolen, we get this great footage, and then you could run the plates and do more of like the in-depth investigation. I mean, the combination of that worked really well."

MORE: Meet the engineer known for revenge glitter bombs left for porch pirates and car break-in thieves

Bay Area engineer Mark Rober built a massive following online by getting back at porch pirates and those who break into cars with glitter bombs.

Over the past eight months, Rober and his team recorded 25 car break-ins, but something surprised him. Most weren't those groups of apparently organized thieves we often see on cell phone videos.

"Something like 80% of our break-ins were just individuals," Rober siad. "So not groups coming around in cars. And honestly, it felt like a lot of them could have been their first break-in almost, right? Like, they weren't very good at it, they couldn't break the window, or they got scared off really easily."

Dan Noyes was also able to track license plates used in the crimes; they often turned out to be from stolen cars, to make the criminals harder to catch.

Gerald Eisman told the I-Team, "I went over to my car and my license plates were gone."

The retired San Francisco State professor had plates stolen twice from his car parked in front of his Oakland home. We showed him the video of his plates being used in a break-in.

DAN NOYES: "What do you think about seeing your plate used in a crime like this?"

GERALD EISMAN: "Well, I'm grateful that I reported it so that the trouble wouldn't come back toward me."

Mark Rober also took notice of our investigation earlier this year -- a videographer placed airtags on his gear, and after a car break-in in Oakland, he watched the equipment travel into San Francisco.

Dan Noyes reported in September, "He's on the phone with a San Francisco police officer when he sees his camera gear arrive at this location in the 300 block of Leavenworth."

"And he goes, Oh, yeah, that's a known major fencing operation," Justin Schuck told us. "Everybody in the Bay Area knows that they can bring their stolen goods and offload them there."

MORE: Car break-in victim tracks stolen camera and gear to SF, gets surprising response from police

Oakland car break-in victim tracks stolen camera and gear to San Francisco and calls police who admit to knowing about 'fencing operation.'

So, Mark Rober rigged a laptop with a tracking device. "We took an actual gaming laptop, remove the extra fan and in its place added a GPS tracker that will continuously stay charged by using the laptop battery."

He got it stolen, and tracked it -- to the same location.

"That was bonkers to me," Mark Rober told us. "Like you publicly outed this as a fencing operation a month and a half ago. And it's still being used as a fencing operation."

Our work has given us many other leads to follow. By the way, you have to see the car that Mark rigged with bullet-proof glass -- just as a way to mess with the criminals. Very entertaining, but with some valuable information.

Take a look at more stories by the ABC7 News I-Team.

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