SEATTLE - Car break-ins are one of the biggest property crimes in Western Washington.
They happen every day, every night and everywhere.
But now thieves are using a new high-tech tool to get into your car.
For any car owner it is disturbing in its simplicity. Caught on home surveillance video, a thief approaches a minivan in a north Seattle driveway; he tries the handle but finds the vehicle locked.
Then he removes his gloves, swings his backpack forward and boom! The interior lights come on, the door is unlocked and the thief gets inside.
"My first reaction was: I've got to figure out what this is," victim Lars Carlson said.
It had happened to Carlson two times before, so six months ago he installed security cameras to figure out what was happening.
Then last Monday he captured the thief on surveillance video.
That's when he realized he has was a victim of what has become known as the Mystery Device.
"It's running through codes automatically or it's a button they're pushing or something is happening but whatever it does it seems to trick the car into thinking he's got the legitimate keys," Carlson said.
It appears we could be seeing the end of old school smash and grab break-ins - the tire iron replaced by advanced technology, something few criminal investigators in Washington have ever seen.
"We have not seen anybody with those boxes yet. We just know that people have made them," National Insurance Crime Bureau special agent Scott Wagner said.
"I do have knowledge that they do make a system. It's a little black box. They can carry it in a backpack, when you hit your fob to unlock your car they can actually steal the codes to your keypad and then unlock your car later," Wagner said.
Wagner says as well as getting into a car, the thief may also be able to start the engine.
"The insurance investigators know that the majority of these vehicles that are being stolen now, the newer ones, there's not going to be any damage to the vehicle, that it's usually somebody stealing the codes to the vehicle," Wagner said.
Sadly, Wagner says, there's not a lot we can do to stop this kind of crime other than to never leave anything in your car, at least until crime-fighting technology catches up to these computer-savvy thieves.
"If this technology becomes easily available to criminals you're going to see it spread and at this point there's not a whole lot we can do to protect ourselves," Carlson said.
Investigators say thieves may also be writing down VIN numbers and ordering new keys. In either case they simply recommend, as usual, that you never leave anything of value in your car.
If you recognize the man in the video, call 911.
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