Police warn: Manually lock car doors to prevent key fob interference

Danny Camacho said he will press the 'lock' button on his car's key fob several times, just to be sure, but recently his stopped working.

“When it happened to me, I was parked on Madison, that's when I realized, ‘Hey, this is weird.’ Because these brand new fobs, both of them can't be out at once,” said Camacho.

He wasn't the only one. Camacho showed FOX 13 an alert Tuesday from his condo community, Grand Central at Kennedy in Channelside, warning residents about recent thefts with no signs of forced entry. Complex officials theorized thieves may be using a device to block key fob signals, so a driver who thought they locked their car, didn't.

Grand Central at Kennedy's advice: Manually lock your car doors.

“Bad for us, but I guess the thieves are probably happy right now,” said Camacho.

Tampa police confirmed detectives are investigating a car burglary at Grand Central that happened last week, saying the owner thought the car was locked. While key fob interference is not certain, security experts said it can happen through so-called “relay attacks.”

“It leaves no trace. You don't have to break windows, the sort of traditional evidence of somebody breaking into a car is not there,” said Frank Scafidi, the National Insurance Crime Bureau's public affairs director.

Scafidi said they tested the method using a relay device and found the signal could be intercepted.

“If the bad guy with this device is nearby, they can capture that signal, transfer it to another individual with the secondary device that retains and stores that code,” said Scafidi.

Then thieves can unlock your car, or in some cases, start push-button cars. It’s a high-tech crime that’s forcing drivers like Camacho to fall back on low-tech methods.

“I’m pushing the button and not using the fob, absolutely. That's the only way to know that somebody's not stealing your fob information,” Camacho said.

AAA said drivers can try storing key fobs in a metal container or a radio-frequency identification blocking sleeve because the metal barrier interrupts signal from the fob. NICB said police nationwide began recovering those relay attack devices starting in 2015.