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Mysterious car break-ins concern residents

Original post made on May 23, 2011

Cars that Palo Alto residents said were locked and have alarm systems were burglarized on Saturday, May 21, leaving some residents baffled over the mystery of how burglars got into their cars.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, May 23, 2011, 9:59 AM

Comments (30)

Posted by rapture
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 23, 2011 at 10:19 am

Just a coincidence that The Rapture was May 21?

Posted by Scott
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 23, 2011 at 10:22 am

Yeah, maybe the iPods were taken up in a tech-Rapture!

Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 23, 2011 at 10:40 am

I may need to hide out in my car with an air horn.

Posted by Felicity
a resident of Los Altos
on May 23, 2011 at 10:40 am

Seriously a mystery? This many cars were not accidentally left unlocked. Of course it is possible to electronically unlock these vehicles. The police need to contact BMW/Lexus/? and ask how it can be done and who has access to such a device. And how such a device could be made or mimicked. PA has a lot of very smart people. I'm betting on a very clever teen..... I'm just surprised it hasn't happened sooner.

Posted by George K.
a resident of College Terrace
on May 23, 2011 at 11:07 am

There is a mystery here. The mystery is how intelligent people still haven't gotten the message that you cannot leave anything of value visible inside your car.

Posted by Dave
a resident of another community
on May 23, 2011 at 11:13 am

The key fobs for cars are a small radio transmitter, and if someone is near with the right equipment, they can capture the signals, save them and duplicate. This has been going on for seveal years in other areas, especially malls and shopping centers. Use you lock button on the car door and not the key fob/remote.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Southgate
on May 23, 2011 at 11:17 am

We had a Lexus stolen from our driveway. It was locked and all keys accounted for. The car was recovered and had been driven. No damage to door locks or ignition system or steering column or windows. Police, Lexus and tow truck driver could not figure out how this was done. I searched internet and found a company in China that manufactures devices to duplicate "smart keys". They had these devices for all major autos.

Posted by Scholar
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 23, 2011 at 11:32 am

If your car has a clicker for your garage door, and they break into your car, they can click open your garage. If they get your registration paper from inside your car, with your address on it, they can take the clicker and go to your house and click open your garage.

Posted by es
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 23, 2011 at 11:53 am

The same thing happened in the Piedmont area of Oakland a few months back and the police determined that car thieves were picking up the signal as people locked or unlocked their cars. Thieves came back and used the signal to unlock the car and remove items.

Posted by William
a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Most modern car remotes use a fairly sophisticated system that does not send the same code each time you operate it. You can't just record the signal and replay it again and have it work. However, if you know the algorithm, you can capture a transmission and then compute another valid one. A reasonably smart hacker could sit in a large parking lot and capture a lot of signals and figure out the algorithms.

I would expect that the police would treat anyone in possession of such equipment as if they were carrying burglary tools.

Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2011 at 12:26 pm

At one time a person could use a "slim jim" to slide a long piece of metal between the window glass and the door frame and unlock the car. More recently auto mfrs. put a bar in the door to prevent this so a newer modified "slim jim" was used to bypass this bar. I don't know if this type of device was used or whether it can somehow bypass the car alarm at the same time.

Crescent Park resident has an interesting possibility but requires thieves to hang around, and they may be spotted by neighbors.

Safest is to leave NO valuable objects in the car when it is untended - whether at home or parked anywhere. When shopping, park close to the store, put articles in the trunk when making multiple visits to a store(s), and remove them at once when back home.

Posted by Catch em
a resident of College Terrace
on May 23, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Install motion detectors, lights and cameras covering the driveway and the house.

Posted by hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 23, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Don't ya just love technology?

Posted by Dave
a resident of another community
on May 23, 2011 at 5:48 pm

Hulkamania says is best. "Don't ya just love technology?". Everytime manufacturers make a leap forward to make something secure, the theives are not far behind. Our service industries are loaded with miscreants with questionable morals, and it is these that we 'trust' to maintain and service our new technology, cars, homes, etc. We are all shooting ourselves in the foot when we pay for something new and fancy, but want others to maintain or fix it.

Posted by Martha
a resident of Professorville
on May 23, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Just another reason to keep my no frills '92 Honda.

Posted by Driver
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 23, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Recently I parked in a parking garage and as I pressed my fob to lock my car, one of the cars behind me started flashing lights, horn, etc. for about 30 seconds. I returned about an hour later and pressed my fob to unlock my car and the same car started flashing lights and horn honking, etc.

The car was a different make, but my car fob was causing this other car to go into alarm mode. My son (who thinks he knows more than me) was with me tried a third time to check that it was my fob that was doing it which of course it was.

Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 23, 2011 at 8:42 pm

Martha - I am w/you! We have a "dogmobile" which we lock - not using a fob ;-) We had a neighbor who's uber old truck was stolen, used for a house move apparently, then nicely left in a giant parking lot.

Sounds like electronic crime. I recall recently a law enforcement pal say to me that he was sure it would hit PA soon if it hadn't already. It's either:

-The next star hacker/future internet millionaire
-Organized crime
-The next star hacker/future internet millionaire *hired* by the mob, or
-I read too many thrillers.

Seriously, this has gotta be some clever amateurs who were very efficient.

When we had major thefts from cars, it was gang members; a couple would break in, steal stuff & dump in bushes, another member would walk down the street & collect the goods, then they took off w/their getaway driver. This might be an updated version of that scam.

What a bummer! Somehow, I think it's connect to the Non-Rapture.

Posted by nerd
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 23, 2011 at 9:29 pm

If you go to the dealer with a car registration form (with VIN) and a driver's license, you can buy a replacement radio transmitter to unlock your car. Either one could be forged.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 23, 2011 at 11:01 pm

I'm with Martha!
My Honda is over 20 years old, still looks new, and has low mileage. Spouse's Honda is newer (13 years old) and dented on all sides from his "polite" colleagues doors at the office.

Posted by Ex
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 24, 2011 at 6:19 am

You can drill a tiny hole in light stick a wire through front headlight ground the car electrically alarm won't go off or put a big magnet where battery is located an alarm won't work or... There's a wire to cut under drivers side door plenty of way without breaking a window

Posted by MakeMyDay
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 24, 2011 at 8:14 am

This message thread is turning into a how-to for criminals. So these thieves are clever enough to decode sophisticated locking systems but not smart enough to find a job, earn money, live a decent, honest life? I hope they spend the rest of their lives trying to decode prison gates, from the inside.

Posted by Clint Eastwood
a resident of College Terrace
on May 24, 2011 at 8:44 am


This thread is telling owners of cars what criminals already know. The sophistication is of the scanner and replay devices - not the criminals actually using them for breakins.

Posted by Steve C
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 24, 2011 at 9:06 am

So then we quickly lock up the perps where they attend cell-block AP seminars in the latest techniques of committing more crimes, and are forced to live in extremely violent conditions, which they are ultimately programmed to bring with them when they are released. It's a vicious cycle that can be stopped, but it will take something different than what we have been doing for the past 30 years or so. I realize that deep down inside, most people have an entirely different solution envisioned, unless, of course, it happens to involve one their loved ones. Then it's different.

Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on May 24, 2011 at 9:52 am

@ Steve C:

So, are you blaming society for car thieves?

I agree that there should be some sort of mandatory prep time for individuals leaving incarceration to gently restore them back to society. Too often, convicts bring the prison mindset back with them to the outside world. I read somewhere that the recidivism rate for convicts who spent 2+ years in prison is nearly 30% -- and increases with more time spent in prison.

However, a criminal like this is a criminal because THEY ARE A CRIMINAL. We can't blame society. I have known many people who are members of the minority community (like myself) who endured years of poverty -- but who were outstanding and peaceful members of society.

When I was in grad school in Texas, I saw a sign posted at a county welfare office where I was interning. It said, "Poverty is not an excuse. Racism is not an excuse. Lack of education is not an excuse. A bad childhood is not an excuse. Social standing is not an excuse. THERE IS NO EXCUSE TO ENGAGE IN A LIFE OF CRIME!"

Somewhere along the line, it became less embarrassing for some people to engage in crime. It should not only be embarrassing, but humiliating for those who engage in violent or adverse criminal behavior.

Posted by al norte sm
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2011 at 11:21 am

Get used to it, folks, if the Governor's budget doesn't pass, according to the California State Sheriffs Association.

From today's paper:
"The U.S. Supreme Court ordered California on Monday to reduce the population of its jammed prisons by more than 30,000 in two years"

"But Gov. Jerry Brown's administration, while critical of the ruling, said the state could comply without releasing any dangerous criminals - if Republicans approve Brown's budget proposal to shift thousands of low-level offenders and parole violators from state prisons to county jails.

The California State Sheriffs Association chimed in, saying Brown's plan - as long as it is accompanied by more state funding for counties - is "a way to ensure this is not a massive release of prisoners." Web Link "

Posted by huh
a resident of Midtown
on May 24, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Re: "Our service industries are loaded with miscreants with questionable morals"

Is the service industry recruiting from Wall Street firms now?

Posted by Jack
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 24, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Of course there is no excuse for crime, but it is a reality. What can we do as individuals to protect ourselves? Here's another reality: as a society we have grown to have too much stuff. Our garages are filled with things -- largely that we don't use -- so we park our cars on the street. To protect ourselves perhaps we need less stuff in our garages, then we can put our cars where they belong.

Posted by Minimalist Mom of Three
a resident of Midtown
on May 24, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Jack, we live minimally. We have three kids, no basement nor attic. We don't store a lot of "stuff" in our house or in our garage, so we can actually park our car inside if we wanted to.

However, we choose to park our car outside as a sign to potential thieves that someone is at home. We would rather the thieves break into our car than to break into our home - especially if we are inside!

You're right about the stuffed garages. The Palo Alto zero-waste garage sale (Web Link on June 4th is a good opportunity for everyone to empty their homes of unnecessary junk!

Posted by Steve C
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 24, 2011 at 3:29 pm

@Nayeli. Not exactly, but the way that society chooses to deal with rehabilitation and employment of offenders is contributing to the problem, not solving it. We all know what the definition of insanity is, right? Prison is like a PhD in criminal behavior, with no meaningful options for individuals who really do want to change for the better and become productive citizens. Unfortunately, at least in our current society, economically, it's one strike and you're out.

Posted by susan
a resident of Barron Park
on May 25, 2011 at 6:13 am

I'm driving the 13 year old Honda my kids drove in high school. Never been broken into and is parked on the street.

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