Jeep and Ram Owners in Houston Targeted by Laptop-Wielding Thieves

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

It looks like car thieves in Houston have found a way to break into (and make off with) Jeep and Ram vehicles without using a slim jim, crowbar or screwdriver.

Surveillance video from a Houston garage shows a Jeep Wrangler being methodically commandeered by a man using a laptop and tablet. After last year’s remote-control Grand Cherokee incident, this is another hacker-related headache for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

The Houston Police Department’s Auto Theft Division released the video on June 22, but the theft itself occurred on April 20. The video doesn’t show the first suspect, who — according to police— raised the Wrangler’s hood and seemingly cut off the vehicle’s audible alarm. A second suspect walks up to the vehicle 10 minutes later, pulls out a laptop, and is soon able to open the vehicle’s door, kill the four-way alarm lights, then start up the Jeep and drive off.

At one point, the suspect briefly uses a flashlight behind the wheel, after which he can be seen using a tablet, with his laptop sitting on the dash.

“They were very professional, kind of made you feel kinda like you’ve been invaded,” the Jeep owner’s father, David Payne, told KHOU 11.

The high-tech theft isn’t a one-off — the same report quotes a Ram owner in another Houston neighborhood who suspects his vehicle’s thieves might have used dealer-sourced technology.

Even before Houston police released the video, residents began to suspect something was going on. A news report from early June detailed a rash of Ram thefts in the city’s Oak Forest neighborhood. Chris Mallia told Click2Houston that four Ram pickups and two Jeep Grand Cherokees were recently stolen from driveways in the area.

“It feels as though they have some sort of master key or computer system that’s allowing them access to the vehicle,” Mallia said. “If you look at the Jeep keys and the Ram keys, it’s the same system.”

In May, Ram trucks were the third most stolen vehicle in Houston, with 53 thefts. Jeep SUVs came in at number 10, with 17 thefts.

“It’s everywhere,” Jim Woods of the HPD’s auto theft unit told KHOU, after the release of the video. “If you’ve got a group that knows how to steal a certain model vehicle, that’s what they are going to go after consistently and steal.”

Last year’s Grand Cherokee hacking saw 1.4 million FCA vehicle recalled to prevent remote takeover of vehicle functions. Before the patch was added, hackers were able to use the Uconnect infotainment system as a portal to reach other vehicle functions, including the throttle, steering and brakes.

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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19 of 82 comments
  • Zackman Zackman on Jul 11, 2016

    If someone doesn't have a key, how in the world can someone steal the car? You can hack the computer, but you need a key to turn and unlock the steering column.

    • See 14 previous
    • Sgeffe Sgeffe on Jul 11, 2016

      @Scoutdude Honda stopped putting the locking column on keyless cars here in the States, but according to the O/Ms, still has them on Canadian vehicles. What is different between NHTSA and Transport Canada's regs, I wonder?

  • Sgt Beavis Sgt Beavis on Jul 11, 2016

    Well Crap. I have a 2014 Ram and a 2015 Jeep GC.

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