7OYS investigates high tech car burglaries

Monday, May 12, 2014
Surveillance video of car theft.

FREMONT, Calif. (KGO) -- Seven On Your Side has been investigating a high tech car hacking technique for nearly a year. And now we have proof that the crime is taking place in the Bay Area.

We have always suspected it, but this is the first time it has been caught on video -- a high tech car burglar at work in Fremont.

Video shows a thief breaking into one car, then the one right next to it. It shows her pulling on the door handle, then waiting. Police believe she has a very small device that had to be directly pressed against the door.

The car's interior light comes on and she gets into the car without any problems. She doesn't steal the car, but rifles through the contents.

This may not be the first time. There have been reports of widespread car burglaries in Palo Alto one night and the same thing in Oakland on another.

Investigators believe thieves are using some sort of mechanism that can electronically trigger the device.

But we had never caught a Bay Area thief in action, and we almost missed it this time.

"So that morning I installed the cameras, that night my cars were broken into," said Fremont resident Derek Walsh. "Wow, yes, yes amazing. It was pure luck. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe it."

Walsh assumed he had left his car unlocked.

"But then my wife looked at the video and she goes wait a minute hun," said Walsh. "The light went on before she even lifted up the handle. There is something going on here. And so I took a closer look at the video and I said you are right. And that's when it became obvious to me she was using something!"

He posted his findings on Nextdoor, the social network for neighborhoods, and nearly a dozen neighbors responded.

"Pretty sure it was locked, don't know how they got in, I am in the habit of locking my truck every time I get out of it," said Walsh. "It is the same theme, you know."

Michael Grigsby is the neighborhood watch block captain. He heard about the burglaries on Nextdoor, too.

"Ironically, my neighbor got robbed, his car was broken into as well, and his duffle bag was stolen," Grigsby said. "So this is something that is continuing to happen."

Investigator Mike Bender is one of the foremost auto burglary experts in the nation. He is calling Walsh's video an important piece of the puzzle.

"It is just so frustrating that law enforcement hasn't flipped someone so we can fix the issue and protect our cars," said Bender.

He says police have gotten a hold of the devices. But neither the cops nor the automotive engineers have been able to replicate the burglaries.

"When they struck out the automatically assumed it can't be done and there is nothing wrong with their vehicles, when we know otherwise because of the video," he said.

Bender says these are electromagnetic devices. But how they work is still a mystery.

"We do have one engineer working on it to duplicate it, but I think the latest video you uncovered will really help motivate us to get a solution to this," Bender said.