Nine members of the so-called Hooligans biker gang have been charged in connection with a string of Jeep Wrangler thefts that police say totaled $4.5 million worth of vehicles stolen. The bikers didn’t smash windows and hotwire the Jeeps, however; instead, they opted for something a little more sophisticated.
Investigators in California struggled to figure out how Jeep Wranglers kept disappearing. After all, there were no signs of an ordinary break in. No broken glass, and no reports of alarms going off.
The video showed multiple men methodically broke into and started a Jeep sitting in the victim's driveway.
A home security video from one of the victims recorded on Sept. 26, 2014 finally shed some light on the case.
According to an unsealed grand jury indictment from September 2016, scouts would seek out Jeep Wranglers in Southern California and obtain the Vehicle Identification Numbers, a car’s unique identifier, from the car's dashboard.
Using a compromised database of VINs for Jeep Wranglers, these bikers were able to create duplicate keys to gain access to the Jeeps they targeted. It’s unclear how the Hooligans got access to this database of VINs, but cops are pointing the finger at a dealership in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Police allege that the dealership in question fulfilled at least 20 requests for duplicate keys for cars that were later discovered to be stolen.
Before entering the car, the Hooligans leveraged the unique design of the hood on Jeep Wranglers, allowing them to open it and cut the wire connecting to the horn, preventing the car's alarm from going off while they moved to phase two. Once the duplicate key made from the stolen VIN database was in the ignition, the thieves used a handheld computer to duplicate the microchip inside the key, allowing them to drive the car away. The cars were almost always taken across the border to Mexico, where they were sold outright or broken down for parts. Three people have been arrested so far, while the other six are still at large.
The thieves may have been using a high tech technique to steal these cars, but that didn’t stop them from bragging about their heists on Facebook Messenger. Talking about the people’s reactions to having their Jeep’s stolen, Adan Sanchez wrote: “They’re going to say ‘damn hooligans.’” A man identified as J.C replied “We’re a plague. They can’t finish us off, dude.” Sanchez replied: “Mexico vs usa.”
As everyday things become increasingly reliant on software systems, thieves are going to become less dependent on smashing and grabbing, and will find more success with breaking flawed systems in order to take what they want. Every year there will be more ways to open your car with an app or a key fob that talks to a computer system embedded in your car, and that means there’s a whole new avenue for thieves to gain access to your stuff.