The Hooligans: High Tech Car Jacking

In the summer of 2014 an investigation arose after dozens of Jeep Wranglers were victims of car jacking, seemingly right from under their owner’s nose, with no traces of evidence left behind. No broken glass was found. No car alarms were heard. And no one knew who was behind it. In total, thieves snagged over 150 Jeep Wranglers, worth around 4.5 million dollars.

However, just a few months later, there was a break in the investigation. A woman who had her own Jeep Wrangler stolen, had caught the thieves on camera. More important than who the thieves were, the investigators were able to learn about how the heist was being pulled. The footage showed three men pop the hood and disable the engine and alarms. Then with a key and handheld device, they simply got in the car and drove off, all in only a couple minutes’ time.

Detectives now knew that duplicate keys were being used, and contacted Chrysler with a list of cars to see if any dealerships had been requesting duplicate keys. Sure enough, they found that almost all of those cars had duplicates requested. The dealership was in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Through more investigation, the thefts were linked to a motorcycle club named The Hooligans based out of Tijuana. Authorities have made three arrests, while six more are still believed to be at large. Investigations were strengthened by an informant who was a part of the Hooligans. According to this informant, the Hooligans were further divided by those in an inner criminal circle known as the “Dirty 30”. This smaller group regularly participated in criminal activity.

The heist was a complicated multi-step process that first involved the thieves obtaining the vehicle identification number, which they found on a sticker on the windshield. This provided them with information regarding the year and specific model features. Kraig Palmer, a California Highway Patrol investigator explained the car jacking from that point. “To obtain a duplicate key, the group first needs two codes, both of which are housed in a proprietary key database. The first code corresponds to a pattern used to cut the physical key. The second code is required to program a computer chip within the key to the targeted Jeep’s onboard computer. (The computer chip, however, is not programmed using the second code until the time of the car jacking.) The leader sends the VIN to another Hooligan, who accesses the proprietary database and obtains the desired key codes. That Hooligan uses one of the codes to create a duplicate key for the targeted Jeep Wrangler. The Hooligan then provides the duplicate key to the leader along with the second code, which the Hooligans need in order to program the microchip within the key at the time of the theft.”

Some of the obstacles the thieves had to overcome they simply did by popping the hood and cutting the wires that lead to the horn and flashing lights. The final step was to connect a handheld vehicle computer program to the car’s diagnostic port. This stopped any alarms and lights they weren’t able to disconnect and allowed them to simply drive off with the Jeep to Mexico.

The thieves were caught when one of them, Henry Pulido, was stopped for a border check because he was thought to be on a stolen motorcycle. Authorities asked him to unlock his phone, where incriminating pictures and texts were found linking him and others to the multiple cases of car jacking, while 6 others remain at large. The three that were arrested are scheduled for court in August of 2017.

You may be interested in our security section.

Jon Buck
Jon Buck
Jon Buck is based in Delhi, India. He enjoys researching, analyzing, and commenting on the cutting edge of the technology world, as well as palak paneer with veg fried rice.

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