Raleigh, NC — Mary Brooks Rice and two of her friends were hoping to enjoy a nice day out at Dorothea Dix Park’s sunflower patch. They didn’t expect to have their cash, debit cards and credit cards stolen from their locked vehicle.
“We parked in the gravel parking lot. There were a lot of folks there,” Rice said.
Before heading out to enjoy the sunflowers last Friday, Rice and her friends locked their wallets inside her friend’s 2019 Honda Pilot. When they returned to their car, it was still locked. They didn’t realize they had seven credit and debit cards and about $280 in cash stolen until they got to lunch.
“Three of us began receiving calls about fraudulent charges on our credits cards,” she said.
Rice estimates that between the three of them, thieves racked up more than $5,000 in charges, mostly at Target at Best Buy. The thieves didn’t steal pricier items locked in her car, like laptops, luggage and purses.
Rice and her friends weren’t the only ones targeted by the mystery attackers that day. Two other similar thefts happened around the same time.
Raleigh police believe this could have possibly been a “relay attack,” or a keyless car theft, where criminals use technology to intercept the frequency of someone’s key fob to unlock their car.
The attack works by two people working together, according to the car information site Leasing.com.
One person stands near the vehicle, and the other stands near a device that can pick up a key fob signal. Some devices used in the attacks can pick up the signal from more than 300 feet away.
Some of the hacking devices are available for sale on Amazon and eBay.
While Raleigh police Lt. Jason Borneo said he can’t prove that’s what happened here, it is a possibility.
“We are aware that this technology is being attributed to these incidents,” he said. “However, we cannot conclusively determine that the technology was used break into the vehicles.”
All three of the thefts were reported between 11 am and 1 pm on July 15.
In the other two thefts, six debit cards were stolen.
“It’s disheartening to think that someone would take advantage at any point, but certainly on a sunny Friday in the middle of the day,” Rice said. “They were very smooth. They were very stealth-like in getting in and out.”
Raleigh police said that this method of theft is “relatively new,” yet security experts have been warning about this phenomenon for some time. A team of Chinese researchers pulled off a relay attack for just $22, to demonstrate how easy it was, Wired reports.