TODAY

TODAY   |  June 05, 2013

Rossen Reports: Wave of auto thefts ‘stumps’ cops

You think your car is safe when you lock it and set the alarm, but criminals have designed a new high-tech gadget to give them full access to your car, and police are baffled. NBC’s Jeff Rossen investigates.

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>>> we have a rossen report's crime alert, a new wave of auto thefts that police frankly can't figure out. jeff rossen is here with more. jeff, good morning to you.

>> hey, savannah, good morning. this is a real mystery. look, when you lock your car and set the alarm on it, you think your car is pretty safe but as we're about to see, criminals have designed a new high-tech gadget giving them full access to your car. police are so baffled they actually want you to watch this video to see if you can help crack the case. long beach, california. watch as this thief moves in, approaching this locked suv in a driveway. police say he's carrying a small device in the palm of his hand. you can barely see it, but he aims it at the car and pops the locks electronically. he's in. with access to everything, no commotion at all. then his accomplice shows up and hits another car using that same handheld device . deputy police chief david hendricks is mystified.

>> this is bad in the sense that we are stumped.

>> reporter: you're stumped?

>> we are stumped and we don't know what this technology is.

>> reporter: he says it's almost like the thieves are cloning your car remote which is virtually impossible to do. here's why, on most cars when you hit the unlock button it sends a code to the car. that code is encrypted and constantly changing, and should be hack proof, but yet these criminals figured out a way to hack it.

>> clearly.

>> reporter: jim stickit has watched the tapes and he's stumped, too.

>> this is really frustrating because clearly they figured out something that looks really simple and whatever it is they're doing, takes seconds to do, you look and go that should not be possible.

>> reporter: it's happening from california to illinois.

>> angry and i felt pretty unsafe.

>> reporter: that's michael shin, his home security camera caught this crook breaking into his honda accord using a similar device but you'd never know it. he looks like the owner of the car, unlocking the doors remotely and silently. the thieves stole cash and an expensive cell phone.

>> it was shocking, just opened magically without him having to do anything.

>> reporter: adding to the mystery, police say the device works on some cars but not others. these thieves tried to open a ford suv and a cadillac, no luck, but this acura suv and sedan popped open and they only seem to strike on the passenger side. investigators don't know why.

>> we've reached out to the car manufacturers , the manufacturer of the vehicle alarm systems and so far nobody seem ens to know what the technology is. when you look at the video and you see how easy it is, it's pretty unnerving.

>> unnerving indeed. this is still so new police don't know how widespread it is yet. how do you protect yourself? here's the takeaway. police say don't leave anything valuable inside your car, even if it's parked in your own driveway, that includes your garage door opener because if the thieves get that, they're suddenly inside your house. also keep your car registration in your wallet, do not leave it in the glove compartment . police say with that information on the registration like your home address, criminals can steal your identity. but right now no question about it the priority for police is finding this device so they can take it apart and figure out what it is. if you have any information that could help, go to our website, today.com and go to the rossen reports section. our viewers are smart and know a lot about electronics, maybe they can help police .

>> so many people, the car registration in the glove box .