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Your car is a target — don’t get hacked or duped

Have you ever heard of wrapping your key fob in tinfoil? It may sound strange, but it’s a smart idea.

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Key fob signals are surprisingly easy for criminals to intercept, allowing them to open your car without setting off the alarm. If you have a true keyless car model, you might just be able to drive away. Wrapping it in foil will block the signal.

It’s only natural that your car would be a target. It’s likely one of the most valuable things you own. Let’s take a look at some of the scams currently targeting car owners and people looking to buy a new car.

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Duplicate VIN Fraud

A Boston woman bought the SUV on Facebook Marketplace for about $40,000. The Carfax report looked legit, and Maril Bauter received a clean bill of health from the registrar. Everything was going smoothly for almost three years until police seized the vehicle.

When she bought her 2019 Toyota 4Runner, it was stolen. VIN duplication fraud.

It all starts with a car that has been stolen or deemed a total loss by the insurance company. Scammers will look for the same make, model and year of the car and get the VIN number from it. It’s as easy as taking a photo through the windshield.

The scammers then change the VIN plate on the stolen or totaled vehicle to match that of a working vehicle, allowing them to create false documents and complete the sale.

Unfortunately, these scams can be difficult to spot. If you’re buying from a private seller on a marketplace:

  • Use sites like Carfax or AutoCheck to see if there’s anything unusual about the VIN.
  • Compare the car’s VIN (located near the windshield and in the door) to the certificate of title and any other documentation provided by the seller.
  • Check to see if the VIN plate has been replaced. Place your finger on the area.
  • Consider paying a mechanic or vehicle inspection service to look for any major issues or warning signs.

Bauter’s story had a happy ending: her insurance company paid her claim for the stolen vehicle. That said, not all victims are so lucky, so be sure to do your research before buying a new car.

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Check out this recent episode of the Kim Komando podcast: Insurance companies use drones to inspect your home

This isn’t the only car scam on Facebook Marketplace

An 18-year-old man was arrested in Fort Lauderdale. Post your neighbor’s car Cars were sold for rental on FB Marketplace. The scammers collected the deposit and sent the renter to the car owner’s actual address.

One neighbor said: Eight Over the course of three weeks, she had multiple break-ins at her house, while another woman had her car vandalized by angry tenants.

  • Never prepay for rentals through community selling platforms – it’s best to use a legitimate rental company.

Counterattack

Cybercriminals could also use good old-fashioned denial-of-service attacks to overwhelm a vehicle, shutting down critical features like airbags, anti-lock brakes and door locks.

laptop

(ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP via Getty Images)

This attack is feasible because some connected cars have Wi-Fi hotspot functionality built in. Just like a regular home Wi-Fi network, compromising the car’s local network could even allow data to be stolen.

It’s also a matter of physical security: remember that modern cars are powered by multiple computers and engine control modules. If a hacker can shut down these systems, you could be at significant risk.

  • It’s a must to change the password for your car’s Wi-Fi network regularly, and it’s also a good idea to turn off your car’s Bluetooth and Wi-Fi when they’re not in use.

Built-in monitoring also poses security risks

Every modern car comes with an on-board diagnostic port, an interface that allows mechanics to access your car’s data, read error codes and statistics, and even program new keys.

Anyone can purchase exploit kits that can use this port to clone keys and program new keys to steal the vehicle.

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  • Always have a trusted mechanic do it for you, and a physical steering wheel lock will give you extra peace of mind.

Mobile malware

Another old-school internet hack involves connected cars, specifically models with built-in internet connectivity and web browsers.

How to prevent malware from moving from your old computer to your new one

Woman working on a laptop (Kurt “Cyberguy” Knutson)

Scammers can send you emails or messages with malicious links or attachments that install malware on your car’s systems. Once malware is installed, anything is possible. This can be hard to tell because car systems don’t have built-in malware protection (yet).

  • Practice computer and internet safety even when connected to your car: don’t open emails or messages or click links from unknown sources.

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