Caption for the landscape image:

Beware: How thugs are gaining access to your car

Scroll down to read the article

Digital car unlocking is a new and very successful vandal scheme being used to gain entry into parked cars. PHOTO/

Originally, the only mode of opening your car was using the key. Over the years, technology has greatly changed that you can now open and lock your car from a reasonable distance using the car key remote. This technology advancement has, however, unfortunately lately been tapped into by digital car vandals who mostly target unsuspecting motorists, especially in busy public places.

The digital vandals do not steal the car but are after valuables left in the car. Most victims, two of whom have been robbed of Shs62m and Shs100m respectively, are normally trailed for some time before the vandals strike.

For instance, about two weeks ago, on a Saturday morning, a one Robert parked and locked his car at a shopping mall in Lugogo, Kampala. As he walked away, he heard his car doors unlock as though someone inside the car had unlocked them using the central lock system. He walked back to the car and confirmed it had been locked. Worryingly, each time, as soon as he started to walk away, his car doors were unlocked again.

“Naturally alarmed, I looked around the car and noticed two men sitting in a car next to one of the stores. They were watching me intently and there was no doubt they were somehow involved in the weird situation I was going through. I quickly abandoned the errand I had to run, jumped into my car, and drove away,” Robert recalls.

When Robert went to the police station and narrated his ordeal in a statement, he was informed that digital car unlocking is a new and very successful vandal scheme being used to gain entry into parked cars.

Robert was not the first victim. In April 2024, Robert’s friend, a one Alfred, had a similar experience. While driving to Mbarara, Alfred made a stopover at a fuel station to use the washrooms. By the time he came out of the washrooms, in less than five minutes, a car vandal had managed to get into the car and steal a mobile phone, laptop, backpack, and other belongings.

Since there were no signs of his car having been forcefully broken into, Alfred, as Robert, was informed that he had been a victim of the latest digital robbery tactic. 

How do they do it?

Robbers use a device to clone your security code when you lock the car doors using a remote locking key. They then position themselves at a distance, where they watch their victim walk away from the car. Immediately you press the lock button on your car key, they use their device to unlock it. When you walk away from the car, they use the shortest time possible to steal whatever valuables you left in the car.

Therefore, it is prudent to always lock your car manually with the key when parking in a public area. When you lock up with the key upon exiting, it does not send the security code to the vandal’s systems.

But if you walk away and use the remote button, it sends the code through the airwaves where it can be easily intercepted by the vandal’s device, which then gives them access to your car.

What police says

Luke Owoyesigire, the deputy spokesperson of the Kampala Metropolitan (KMP) area, says police have not registered any cases of car robberies by cloning in Kampala. The only cases that have been registered are those where robbers use master keys and break into the car, where in most cases, the car lock is damaged.

“You cannot keep someone from breaking into your car but you can put safety measures in place. In one of the most recent cases, the victim was robbed of Shs50m after being trailed from the bank where he withdrew the money. In such a scenario, avoid carrying large sums of money in the car,” Owoyesigire advises.

He also advises using measures such as installing alarms that alert you when your vehicle is being tampered with. In the case of the Shs50m robbery, the robbers drove a car and parked next to their target, broke into the car, and drove away a few minutes later.

In such a scenario, Owoyesigire says, it is safer to park in a place with cameras because it helps police identify the vehicle and culprits involved.


How to protect your car from vandalism

Criminals do not want to be caught, so making the car and the perpetrator easier to see can reduce the likelihood of being targeted. Consider parking in a well-lit area away from crowds. If you are parking at home, you might install a security camera to monitor the car. Catching a car vandal on tape can make it easier to pursue legal action and may also be helpful when filing an insurance claim if you need to.

Making the car harder to get to or otherwise less appealing as a target can also discourage vandals. If your vehicle does not have a security system or alarm, consider installing one. If you cannot afford an alarm, installing a simple blinking light that mimics a security system or putting security system stickers on the window that says the car is protected can still make criminals think twice.

Other ways to protect your car from vandalism include:

Parking in a covered, closed garage if you have access to one.

Removing valuables from the car (or at least placing them out of sight in the trunk or glove compartment).

Varying your parking spots and times since routines make it easier for criminals to target you.

- Source: