What is Jamming Car Alarm Systems at the Annapolis Mall?
Last week, the South River Source was notified about an incident at the Annapolis Mall. A woman parked her car on the upper deck parking lot near Lord & Taylor around 5:30 p.m. on Sunday. She was in the mall for just a few minutes and when she returned to her car, her remote keyless entry would not work. It was completely disabled. She attempted to manually open the door using the key, and that didn’t work either.
She returned to the mall and talked to security.
She said that the security officer told her that teens are getting some type of download on their cellphones that enables them to jam electronic lock systems.
We spoke with Bruce Romano, a spokesman at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), who told us that it would be nearly impossible to use a cellphone to jam such a signal because they operate on different frequencies.
“Southern District has received some complaints intermittently over the last year regarding some issue of vehicle keyless entry systems being jammed in the Annapolis area near the mall,” he said.
But Mulcahy noted that the source of the problem is unknown. He said that there have not been any “theft from auto” issues associated with this—that they are aware of.
According to the FCC, the culprit could be a security system or an automatic door opener that hasn’t been tuned to the proper frequency. Typically, signals from those sources only travel for a couple of feet. But, if they are not calibrated properly can cause problems.
In January of this year, the FCC cited a nightclub in Michigan for having a lighting controller that was transmitting signals on 314.93MHz —the same frequency used by remote keyless entries for automobiles. The citation noted that the signal level of the device exceeded the limits of what the FCC would allow without a radio license.
In that circumstance, the interference with car remotes ended when the device was turned off, and so it appeared intermittent.
In another story by the Watertown Daily Times, the New York paper reported a similar instance of automatic doors disabling keyless entry devices near a Kohl’s department store.
One way to make sure this doesn’t become a problem for you is to always have a manual key, or a valet key, with you so that you have an alternate way into the car if the security system isn’t functioning. In addition, always listen for your car doors to lock, or check them manually after locking with a remote.
It seems especially important in light of the robbery that took place in the parking lot at the mall on Thursday evening. Leaving your car unlocked, or struggling to get back into your car can give “opportunity” to those with bad intentions.
In addition, always be aware of your surroundings and park in a well-lit area.
A similar problem happened to shoppers outside of a mall in Limerick, just north of Philadelphia. There, a woman had a laptop stolen from her unlocked car—although she was convinced she had pushed the lock button on her key fob. The car didn’t respond because of interference. She later found out that all of the cars nearby were having similar problems with their remote-controlled car security.
We reached out to the Anne Arundel County amateur radio club to see if they had any devices that could detect radio signals that might interfere with remote locks in the 315MHz range, where the FCC has assigned automobile companies a frequency. We will follow-up if there is any way for them to help us test the signal.
If The Source can find the source of the interference, we will try to reach out to help correct the problem.
Lord & Taylor responded with the following statement: “Lord & Taylor is working both with local law enforcement and with the mall organization to support the efforts to resolve this issue. We remain committed to providing stellar customer service and the best possible customer experience for our shoppers.” (this quote is an update from an earlier version of the story. —MWS, edited on Feb. 24; 4:30 p.m.)
An email and phone call from Annapolis mall spokeswoman were not returned.
For the woman who was stuck on Sunday, her husband drove to the mall with another key that worked, and by the time they got home, everything had returned to normal and was functioning fine.
Either way, the police department’s Mulcahy said that police want to remind citizens to manually lock and unlock their vehicles if they encounter similar problems.