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Security dangers of key fobs

AAA said they’ve seen vehicle thefts in Missouri nearly double over the last year.

ST. LOUIS — A grandfather in north St. Louis is stunned after a man stole his car and nearly drove away with his granddaughter, even without the key. 

Tyrone Hayes said that day was the scariest day of his life. Now, he’s demanding answers from automakers.

“And I'm like, 'Hey, hey man. There’s a baby in here, there’s a baby in here. Let me get the baby out and you can take it,'" he said. 

The day started with dropping 9-month-old Amanda off at daycare in north St. Louis. He went to unbuckle the car seat. A man opened the door.

“He looked like between the ages of 17 to 20 years old," he said. 

That man got behind the wheel, and pushed the ignition button. 

“And I got the baby out. Then he jetted off," he said. 

Hayes’ car that was stolen was a Volkswagen. We reached out to the company for comment about any actions they’re taking with their key fobs to prevent theft. They told 5 On Your Side they are looking into the issue.

Tyrone had the key fob in his pocket the whole time. Police later found the car 15 miles away. Now he’s in a rental.  

“And that was a shocker to me," said Hayes. “How do you get that far?” 

Our I-Team had the same question. We went directly to the experts and asked if there were security issues with key fobs.

“Potentially, yes," said Nick Chabarria, a spokesperson with the American Automobile Association (AAA). 

Chabarria said more than 80% of new cars have them: keyless entry, or key fobs. It's convenient. But it can make you a target.

“It's going to be up to the manufacturers again to find ways to make these less, you know, less prone to theft. You know, similar to the example we've seen with Kia and Hyundai thefts over the last year," he said. 

The auto group said they’ve seen vehicle thefts in Missouri nearly double over the last year.

“That just blows my mind," said Hayes. 

A big reason for the spike, according to AAA – people taking advantage of technological blind spots, from software failures to key fobs. 

AAA told our I-Team most cars will start if the key fob is close. We’re talking within around three feet of your push button ignition. 

If you’re within that radius with your key fob, say getting a child out of a car seat, try this for safety: Open the child’s door, lock the doors, and then take them out of the car. 

Filling up your car with gas? Lock the door. It’s more work, but auto industry experts say it’ll keep you safer. 

Right now, Chabarria said key fobs just have this loophole. And we don’t know how often thefts using this technology are actually happening. It’s not something local police typically track. Chabarria said consumers need to be aware. 

We asked if there changes that could be made to these key fobs to make them more secure.

“Possibly moving away from a completely keyless ignition system," said Chabarria.

Auto experts told us that’s not likely anytime soon. Key fobs are just becoming more and more popular. So in the meantime, the best thing to do is to stay alert, store your key a safe distance away and lock your doors. 

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